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Car-surfing injuries linked to video games

July 21, 2009 |  9:08 am

A group of neurosurgeons analyzing the dangerous teen activity known as car surfing has concluded that its popularity corresponds with the release of the Grand Theft Auto video game series and YouTube clips glorifying the activity.

Car surfing, thought to have originated in the Bay Area in the 1980s, is a stunt in which the "surfer" sits or stands on the hood, roof or trunk of a moving vehicle, hangs onto the sides or is dragged from a rope trailing behind. It is also called ghost riding. From 1998 to 2006, 51 California youths died in car-surfing accidents.

The study, published in the Journal of Neurosurgery, is the first comprehensive look at the rising rate of injuries related to car surfing and why teens engage in such reckless behavior.

The authors analyzed statistics from the states with the most car-surfing injuries -- California, Florida and Texas -- and found a steady rise in accident rates starting in 2000. The increase in injuries corresponded to the release of the Grand Theft Auto video games (editions one through three) and the Jackass video game series and movie in 2002, according to the authors of the paper, from University Hospitals Rainbow Babies and Children's Hospital in Ohio. An increase in fatalities occurred from 2004 to 2005 with the release of GTA San Andreas and the growing popularity of YouTube, the study finds. A search of YouTube archives from 2006 to 2008 produced 350 video clips showing children and teenagers engaging in car surfing.

In a study of seven car-surfing injuries at their own hospital, the authors found most injuries were to males; the average age was 13.4 years; all sustained head injuries; four suffered longterm neurologic damage.

Why would kids do this? The report is unusual because the authors conducted a broad search of statistics and popular culture to show how video games and YouTube clips appear to influence the behavior, says Dr. Ann-Christine Duhaime, in an editorial accompanying the paper.

"People do stupid things, and adolescents do some of the stupidest," Duhaime wrote, in what is perhaps one of the most accurate observations in medical literature on accidental injuries. "It is well documented that children and adolescents imitate what they see in the media, even when this is deleterious to their health."

Adults, she says, need to channel teens' need for adventure into "activities with less likelihood of life-altering, or life-ending, outcomes."

-- Shari Roan

Photo: Carlos Chavez / Los Angeles Times

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