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What was meant to be nothing more than a freewheeling, youthful stunt turned tragic on August 11. A 21-year-old St. Paul man died in an automobile accident involving the emerging phenomenon of “car surfing,” the practice of standing or draping yourself on a moving vehicle.

He had headed out of town with a group of friends for a weekend on the lake. But when the group sought their thrills on the road rather than the water, it was a recipe for disaster.

The young man was perched atop a moving SUV on his stomach while one of his friends, another 21-year-old, was behind the wheel. In addition to the driver, three others were inside the vehicle. When the victim fell off the roof and struck his head, the driver and one of the passengers rushed to help – but it was too late.

The driver was arrested on suspicion of homicide by intoxicated use of a vehicle. He posted bail, and is awaiting charges.

Car surfing has become a disturbingly common trend as more young adults try to replicate the multitude of car surfing videos that pepper the Internet. The CDC has identified 58 car surfing deaths and 41 injuries in the U.S. from 1990 to midway through 2008.

Often, at least some of the blame for these injuries and fatalities falls on the driver. Possible criminal charges and jail time are just one piece of the puzzle. Families of victims who are killed, or individuals who are injured in nonfatal accidents, may be able to hold drivers or their insurer’s accountable for monetary damages arising out of reckless practices like car surfing.

The car surfing phenomenon is only a symptom of a greater problem. When youthful drivers are distracted by a carload of friends, mistakes in judgment are all too common, particularly when there is alcohol involved. Yet, antics that may be harmless in other settings should never be brought to the road, where the stakes are gravely high.

If there is a younger driver in your life, remind him or her that safety behind the wheel is an important duty – and if you or a loved one has been injured by an irresponsible driver, know that monetary compensation may be available through a personal injury lawsuit.