Teens Warned About Dangers of 'Car Surfing'

A gregarious shell fisherman in the Cape Cod town of Wellfleet, Mass., Caleb Potter spent July 4, 2007, dressed as Yellowbeard the pirate in the town parade. Later that night, he hitched a ride with a friend to the celebration at the pier -- but chose to do so by hanging on to the back of a friend's pickup truck on his skateboard.

Today, Caleb's mother Sharyn Lindsay told ABCNews.com that her son was "probably surfing for about a mile, maybe less" when "he felt the wheels wobbling and going out of control, even though his friend was not going that fast."

The then 26-year-old flew into the air and landed directly on the left side of his head, an accident which resulted in a traumatic brain injury.

"They gave him a 7 percent chance of life," Lindsay said. "The neurosurgeon told me that if Caleb did make it, by some odd chance, that Caleb would be a vegetable."

After more than six months in several hospitals, Potter did make it. Today, his mother maintains a blog about how the incident has affected her family in the time since.

"I think on this particular day, Caleb was emotionally upset about an issue and he made a very bad judgment," Lindsay said. "It has changed our lives forever."

Videos posted on YouTube feature a dangerous form of entertainment, known as car surfing, in a variety of forms. One young man appears to be skiing down the street in his sneakers as he clings to the driver's side door while sailing down a residential street. Another, like Potter did, relied on his skateboard. A third climbs out of the driver's seat and heads for the roof as his red pickup tears down the street. He jumps off onto the street just before the truck jumped the curb and strikes a telephone pole.

While young men in particular have turned to the activity for fun, today risky practices like those are also turning heads among government health officials at the CDC.

On Thursday afternoon, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention issued a report warning parents and teens about the dangers of riding on the outside of a moving car. The report, based on 1990 to August 2008 news articles about car surfing, reveals that 58 people have died from car surfing, and another 41 were injured.

Still, the number of deaths and injuries in similar accidents could be far higher. The report did not count various types of accidents, excluding those, for instance, that involved skateboards, leaning out of car windows, or being pulled behind a car on a bike.

A practice known as "ghost riding," which the report describes as when a driver gets out of a moving car to "dance next to it while the vehicle continues to move forward" was also not included in the data.

Study author Dr. John Halpin said accidents like those involving skateboards also constitute "a very dangerous behavior."

"We're certainly going to miss a certain number of instances of car surfing and we recognize that," he said.

Still, the federal government is warning parents and teens to talk to their children about the dangers of car surfing despite what form it takes.

"Injuries due to car surfing have been persistent and they have been widespread," Halpin said.

"Our advice is that teens should simply not engage in car surfing, it's just too dangerous," he said. "Even at slow speeds this can lead to a fatality."

The report found car surfing injuries and deaths happened from anywhere between 5 and 80 miles per hour. Seventy percent of those incidents involved teenage boys, with 74 percent of those teens living in the Midwest and the South.

Meantime, Potter, now 27, is improving. He has lost sight in his left eye and has trouble hearing out of his right ear. He is still a people person, and can recognize people he's known for years, though he sometimes has trouble with his short-term memory. He is bike riding, doing yoga and seeing an acupuncturist.

Still, Lindsay said, "It's been a hell of a year. The impact on your family is just monumental. It never goes away."

ABC News' Matt Hosford and Brian Hartman contributed to this report.

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