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Inquiry Details

Vehicle occupants riding on motor vehicles (Car surfing)

This inquiry was established on Thursday 20 November 2003. Car surfing is a dangerous activity of vehicle occupants (typically young people) that can cause severe injuries or death. Car surfers sit and hang on to, or stand on top of, moving cars and utes as though they were ‘surfing’. Sometimes this is done as a game or challenge to see who can stay on the longest and land on your feet when the car or ute suddenly stops or turns. Vehicle occupants ride on the bonnet, roof, or boot lid of moving cars, stand up and balance in the tray of utes, or hold to or are towed by vehicles while skateboarding or roller blading.

The STAYSAFE Committee is reviewing the law relating to the practice known as car surfing, and assessing any implications for road safety policy and practice and the prosecution of criminal and traffic offences through the Courts. Car surfing is the name given to the dangerous activity of young people that can cause severe injuries or death. Car surfers sit and hang on to, or stand on top of, moving cars and utes as though they were ‘surfing’. We might call such people ‘temporary Australians’ because of the very recklessness and dangerousness of their actions. Sometimes this is done as a game or challenge to see who can stay on the longest and land on your feet when the car or ute suddenly stops or turns. People ride on the bonnet, roof, or boot lid of moving cars, stand up and balance in the tray of utes, or hold to or be towed by vehicles while skateboarding or roller blading. In some instances, people engaging in car surfing leap from one moving vehicle to another. Injuries from car surfing occur so quickly that there is no time to try to break the impact, and typically include severe head injuries such as skull fractures and intracranial haemorrhage, as well as major bruising and abrasions to the face, hands and legs. The outcomes of head injury are such that the individuals involved, and the community, bear a significant cost in treatment, rehabilitation, and long term disability. Car surfing has been a feature of hoon behaviour at B & S balls and such like in the country for some time, but seems to have been given a new lease of life as a result of stunt depictions in movies such as Matrix Revisited, Jackass and Teen Wolf. Some popular computer games on PlayStation and xBox also feature characters that can be played to engage in car surfing behaviours. In a brief review by the STAYSAFE Committee¯which by no means is comprehensive¯several deaths and instances of severe head injury were identified in New South Wales for just 2003. In 1999 several medical researchers in the Hunter area wrote a paper published in the Medical Journal of Australia reporting on the potential head trauma consequential to car surfing (or ‘ute surfing’ as they termed it). This seems to be the only Australian study that has been reported (see below). The Committee’s action follows individual STAYSAFE Committee Member’s concerns about inappropriate behaviour that has resulted in deaths and injuries. I refer, in particular, to the deaths of two men in September 2003, one at Balgownie Heights in the Manly area, and the other at Wagga Wagga in the Riverina. The issue of car surfing will be examined in the context of the effective dealing with unrestrained passengers in or on motor vehicles. The safety benefits of providing and ensuring the use of passenger restraints in motor vehicles are well known. Equally well known is the incidence and severity of injury to unrestrained passengers in motor vehicle crashes, either where no restraints are available, or where passengers do not use restraints. Issues to be examined include: · youth and the use of motor vehicles · traffic policing and crash investigation · criminal and traffic law regarding car surfing and unrestrained vehicle passengers · insurance issues associated with car surfing and the carriage of unrestrained passengers · the challenge of dealing with unrestrained passengers in or on motor vehicles · the circumstances where vehicle passengers may be required to work on platforms or open trays of vehicles without a restraint, and · social equity issues associated with carriage of more passengers than the available number of restraint devices, particularly with regard to rural and remote communities. Some useful references regarding car surfing include: Allen, R.S., Spittaler, P.J. & Christie, J.G. (1999). ‘Ute surfing’: a novel cause of severe head injury. Medical Journal of Australia, 171: 681-682. Hooft, P.J., & van de Voorde, H.P. (1994). Reckless behaviour related to the use of 3,4-methylenedioxymethamphetamine (ecstasy): apropos of a fatal accident during car-surfing. International Journal of Legal Medicine. 106: 328-329. Kohr, R.M. (1992). Car surfing in Indiana--an unusual form of motor vehicle fatality. Journal of Forensic Sciences. 37: 1693-1696.

Resolution passed Thursday 20 November 2003, Minutes No. 8, Item 5, p.4 No specific heads of inquiry have been established for the inquiry into car surfing - standing or sitting unrestrained on the bonnet, roof or boot of cars and utes that are being driven.

No specific heads of inquiry have been established for the inquiry into car surfing - standing or sitting unrestrained on the bonnet, roof or boot of cars and utes that are being driven.


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