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
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
· insurance issues associated with car surfing and the carriage of unrestrained
· 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
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.
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.