Social Media

New York City Is Battling a Surge in ‘Subway Surfing’ Deaths, Officials Blame Social Media

New York City officials are working to curb the dangerous practice of “subway surfing,” where people climb onto the roofs of moving subway cars, following a surge in accidental deaths, NPR reported.

The practice continues to gain popularity because of TikTok and other social media apps, and officials have repeatedly asked these platforms to remove videos of the stunts to prevent future incidents, per the outlet. Some videos related to subway surfing were removed following NPR’s inquiries.

The NYPD told NPR that it has logged 82 instances of subway surfing between January 1 and July 9 this year.

“Unfortunately, we’ve witnessed far too many tragic outcomes associated with this senseless act, which is fueled by social media, intention, clout, and poor decisions,” Michael Kemper, NYPD chief of transit, said in a press briefing in July.

“Our message is clear to anyone who’s considering subway surfing. Don’t do it. Not only is it illegal and you will be arrested if caught, but people are literally dying while doing it,” he added.

The practice of subway surfing has surged over the past year, raising concern for local NYC officials. David Dee Delgado | Getty Images.

In the first six months of 2023 alone, four teenagers, ranging in age from 14 to 16, have died while subway surfing, while three suffered “debilitating injuries” that could be “life-altering,” Kemper said in the briefing.

The rise of the incidents is concerning and a stark increase from the five suspected subway surfing deaths that occurred between 2018 and 2022, Michael Cortez, a spokesperson for the Metropolitan Transportation Authority (MTA), told NPR.

Meanwhile, the general practice of “riding outside of trains” which includes subway surfing and also moving between cars or “hanging outside of them,” jumped from 206 incidents in 2021 to 928 in 2022, according to MTA data, per The New York Times.

Related: A 14-Year-Old Who Broke into Nearly 40 Cars Was Inspired by Viral TikTok Trend, According to Police Reports

In response to these incidents, the NYPD has taken proactive measures, including engaging with the parents and guardians of identified subway surfers to dissuade their participation in the activity, NPR added.

New York City Mayor Eric Adams has called upon social media companies to ban videos depicting subway surfing.

“Social media must be socially responsible. Subway Surfing kills. We need everyone to be a part of ending this dangerous threat,” the mayor posted on X in June.

This is hardly the first time trends on social media have led to unfavorable — and sometimes dangerous — outcomes:

  • The “Benadryl Challenge” involved users taking high amounts of the over-the-counter allergy medicine to induce hallucinations while documenting the experience on social media. It took the life of a 13-year-old teenager from Ohio in April.
  • The “Kia Challenge” gained popularity in 2021 when social media users documented how to easy it was to break into Kia and Hyundai vehicles. This led to a surge of car break-ins around the country, resulting in a $200 million class action lawsuit settled in May.
  • The “In My Feelings” challenge, which gained attention in 2018, involved people recording videos of themselves dancing to the Drake song, often alongside a slow-moving car, which sometimes led to accidents or injuries.
  • The “Tide Pod Challenge,” where individuals filmed themselves attempting to eat or bite into laundry detergent pods, emerged in 2018, leading to a concerning amount of youth fatalities.
  • The “Cha Cha Slide Challenge” emerged in early 2020, and had users singing along to the tune while driving, but due to the song’s lyrics (“slide to the left!”), people were swerving on the road.

Related: TikTok Video Goes Viral After Starbucks ‘Surprise Me’ Trend Goes Wrong

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