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Loyola Trauma Expert Warns of Rise in Car-Surfing Brought on by YouTube, Social Media Videos

MAYWOOD, Ill. -- An increase in the temperatures statistically means an increase in motor vehicle injuries, including a growing national trend for car surfing. Most popular with teenage males, the sport involves clinging to the exterior of a speeding car.

“Young people believe they are invincible but several seconds of thoughtless, risky behavior can lead to a lifetime of permanent disability or even death,” said Thomas Esposito, MD, chief of the Division of Trauma, Surgical Critical Care and Burns in the Department of Surgery at Loyola University Medical Center.

National statistics have shown a steady rise in car-surfing fatalities. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), at least 99 people have died or sustained serious injuries as a result of car surfing since 1990. “Broken bones and road rash – severe skin abrasions caused by impact from a fall – are minor injuries from car-surfing,” Esposito said. “Head injuries are very prevalent and the effects are devastating."

Car crashes are the leading cause of death among teenagers in the United States. Loyola is the only Level 1 trauma center that has been verified by the American College of Surgeons in Illinois and regularly cares for patients who have been involved in car crashes.

The rise in car-surfing fatalities directly corresponds to an increase of these scenes in movies, video games and social media.

“For those desiring their five minutes of fame, social media such as YouTube and Facebook offer perceived fame and instant gratification,” Esposito said. “Replicating a dangerous stunt and capturing it with a cell phone may seem like a cool idea but can have serious long-term consequences."

In addition to treating car-surfing patients at Loyola’s Trauma Center, Dr. Esposito said he has witnessed car surfing firsthand in front of his own house in the southwest suburbs of Chicago. “I had to approach a group of teenagers who were car surfing down my street and told them that I was on-call for Loyola and I preferred to know them as my young healthy neighbors and not as my seriously injured and disabled patients,” he said.

Dr. Esposito relayed statistics from the CDC:

  • Males are more likely to car surf than females
  • The average age of people injured as a result of car surfing is 17.6 years, and a larger-than-average proportion of injuries occur among teen males ages 15 to 19
  • Injuries have been reported in 31 states, with a regional pattern detected with 39 percent from the Midwest and 35 percent from the South

Esposito noted that one of the key risks is sudden, unanticipated car maneuvers, such as accelerating, swerving or braking, which can force a car surfer off of the vehicle. “People who fall off a moving vehicle may suffer brain contusions, broken bones, fractured skulls, loss of consciousness, internal bleeding, paralysis and death,” he said.  “Car surfing is a dangerous game with stakes that are too high if you lose."

As a Level 1 trauma center, Loyola is equipped to provide multidisciplinary, comprehensive emergency medical services with specialized treatments to patients suffering traumatic injuries from car and motorcycle crashes, stabbings, athletic injuries and falls.

Loyola University Health System (LUHS) is a member of Trinity Health. Based in the western suburbs of Chicago, LUHS is a quaternary care system with a 61-acre main medical center campus, the 36-acre Gottlieb Memorial Hospital campus and more than 30 primary and specialty care facilities in Cook, Will and DuPage counties. The medical center campus is conveniently located in Maywood, 13 miles west of the Chicago Loop and 8 miles east of Oak Brook, Ill. The heart of the medical center campus is a 559-licensed-bed hospital that houses a Level 1 Trauma Center, a Burn Center and the Ronald McDonald® Children's Hospital of Loyola University Medical Center. Also on campus are the Cardinal Bernardin Cancer Center, Loyola Outpatient Center, Center for Heart & Vascular Medicine and Loyola Oral Health Center as well as the LUC Stritch School of Medicine, the LUC Marcella Niehoff School of Nursing and the Loyola Center for Fitness. Loyola's Gottlieb campus in Melrose Park includes the 255-licensed-bed community hospital, the Professional Office Building housing 150 private practice clinics, the Adult Day Care, the Gottlieb Center for Fitness, Loyola Center for Metabolic Surgery and Bariatric Care and the Loyola Cancer Care & Research at the Marjorie G. Weinberg Cancer Center at Melrose Park.

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