It's a scene straight out of the iconic 1968 film "Bullitt": a vehicle races toward a hilltop, suddenly lifts off into the air, and then crashes back to earth with a thunderous jolt. However, this isn't a Steve McQueen blockbuster with professional stunt coordination and controlled safety measures; it's a lethal and escalating pastime among daredevil teenagers known as "hill hopping".
The Allure of Airborne Adventure
Hill hopping, also referred to as hill jumping or yumping, involves accelerating a vehicle as it approaches a hill's summit, causing the vehicle to briefly defy gravity. This practice can occur at formal rally racing events, but it's the unsanctioned and illegal occurrences on public roads that are causing increasing alarm among law enforcement and safety organizations.
The advent of social media platforms such as YouTube has arguably escalated this perilous practice. Young drivers, seduced by the audaciousness of these high-flying feats, may feel compelled to replicate them, ignorant of the potential for disaster.
The Dangerous Reality of Hill Hopping
The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) lists two-lane country roads as the most dangerous and deadly type of road, and it's here that most hill hopping attempts occur. These narrow, often isolated lanes offer little margin for error, and their dips, turns, and blind intersections can be treacherously deceptive.
Additionally, the actual act of launching a vehicle into the air poses serious risks to both the driver and the vehicle itself. A hill hopping vehicle's suspension system - essential for maneuverability - can be severely damaged by the force of landing. This can compromise control during subsequent curves or turns. Steering mechanisms can also be damaged, sometimes beyond repair, which can lead to a total loss of control.
What many thrill-seekers may not realize is the importance of tire contact with the road. Once airborne, a vehicle is completely at the mercy of gravity and momentum, with no control over landing direction, angle, or attitude. The subsequent landing can be devastating.
The Human Cost of Hill Hopping
When a vehicle takes off and lands with such force, the occupants inside are also at risk. Hard landings can jostle the driver, causing them to lose grip on the wheel or contact with the foot pedals during the most critical moments. Unbuckled passengers can be violently thrown against the dashboard or windows, or even ejected from the vehicle altogether.
Adding to the danger is the fact that these antics are often performed by teenage drivers, a demographic already associated with a higher risk of vehicular accidents due to their inexperience and tendency towards risk-taking behavior.
Towards a Safer Future
As with many issues of public safety, education is crucial in curbing the dangerous trend of hill hopping. Parents, schools, and community organizations can play a significant role in educating young drivers about the inherent dangers of such practices.
It's also important to encourage responsible online behavior. Sharing videos of reckless driving stunts glorifies these dangerous activities and may encourage impressionable viewers to mimic such behavior.
In the end, it's vital to remember that while the thrill of hill hopping may be temporary, the consequences can be tragically permanent. Roads are not racetracks, and vehicles are not stunt props; they are tools of transport that, when misused, can turn deadly in an instant. The challenge lies in ensuring our young drivers understand this reality before it's too late.
Documented Cases: The Tragic Consequences of Hill Hopping
We're highlighting the severe repercussions of hill hopping through a somber record of incidents that resulted in fatalities. This list serves as a powerful reminder of the grave dangers associated with this reckless behavior. For events involving multiple casualties, the driver is named first unless otherwise stated in the description.
Ashlyn Brotemarkle, 16, and Ariana Haftsavar, 16 (January 10, 2023) - In Fairfax County, Virginia, a fatal accident occurred when a teenage girl lost control of her 2019 Lexus IS350 while jumping a hill at speeds exceeding 100 mph. The crash resulted in the deaths of the driver and one passenger, while another passenger sustained severe injuries.
Caleb Christian Bylander, 16 (February 2, 2019) - In Pierce County, Wisconsin, a teenage boy lost control of his 1989 Ford F250 after jumping a hill. The vehicle rolled over, resulting in the driver being ejected and fatally injured.
Peyton Shea Farley, 17 (October 28, 2016) - In Oak Grove, Missouri, Farley's vehicle overturned and rolled after a hill jump, leading to her death and leaving her two friends injured.
Tylor Anthony Wright, 18 (August 14, 2014) - In Saline County, Arkansas, 18-year-old Charles Sadler attempted a hill jump in his white 2002 Ford F-150. The attempt ended tragically when the car crashed into a tree, resulting in the death of passenger Tylor Wright.
Deborah A. Hughes, 58 (July 23, 2013) - A tragic multi-vehicle collision occurred when 17-year-old Cameron Neil Kopecky, while hill-jumping in his 2000 Dodge Ram pickup with friends, caused a crash involving three vehicles. The unfortunate event led to the death of Deborah A. Hughes, a woman in one of the other vehicles involved.
Nicholas Jolly, 19 (June 8, 2013) - A hill hopping incident turned fatal in Jefferson, Oregon when Jolly, while attempting to "catch air" at speeds between 90-100 mph, lost control of his vehicle mid-air, leading to a collision with a utility pole that resulted in his immediate death. (ABC News)
Austin Gable, 14, McKenna Johnson, 13 (pregnant), and Marco Perez, 15 (December 20, 2011) - In a tragic incident in Eau Claire, Wisconsin, 16-year-old Felicia Bertrang allowed Austin Gable to drive her parents' car. The car, carrying the three teenagers, attempted a hill jump, tragically flying a staggering 177 feet before flipping over, leading to the untimely deaths of Gable, Johnson, and Perez.
Clayton Newell, 16 (October 17, 2011) - A reckless hill jumping attempt in St. Charles County, Missouri turned tragic when 16-year-old Michael A. Gianino lost control of his 2003 Chevrolet Malibu while speeding at over 75 miles per hour. The car veered off the road, hit an embankment, and flipped multiple times. During the crash, Newell, a passenger in the car, was ejected. Despite sustaining serious injuries, the driver and two other passengers survived the accident, however, Newell tragically did not.
Kathlina N. Reinig, 18, and Gavin C. Roskamp, 16 (June 6, 2011) - In rural Hancock County, Illinois, Reinig lost control of her 2006 Chevrolet Cobalt while hill jumping. The car rolled multiple times before colliding with a tree. We have an article going into depth about this incident and the people behind it.
Hillary M. Wilson, 16 (June 16, 2003) - In Madison County, Illinois, 18-year-old Jared E. Eyanson lost control of his 1976 MG Midget convertible while attempting to jump a hill. The car took flight, rolled over multiple times, and ejected both Eyanson and Wilson before finally coming to a halt in a pasture. (The Edwardsville Intelligencer)
Julia Schmidt, 16 (January 18, 2002) - In a regrettable incident, 16-year-old Katherine Moore lost control of her vehicle while driving, leading to a collision with a utility pole and a sewage pumping station before the car flipped. While Moore and another 17-year-old passenger escaped with minor injuries, Schmidt was sadly pronounced dead at the scene by paramedics.
Anna Destefano, 13, and Kelly Ridenour, 13 (June 9, 2000) - A tragic incident occurred when 16-year-old girl Michele Luhn, driving her mom's 1998 Jeep Grand Cherokee, attempted a hill hop,lost control, and struck a utility pole. The crash resulted in the deaths of two passengers and left nine other teenagers injured.
Amber Lynn Duncan, 17 (July 1999) - In Woodlawn, Maryland, 18-year-old Ryan Christopher Sumida lost control of his 1987 Honda CRX while attempting a hill jump. The car subsequently crashed into a tree, resulting in Amber being killed.
As more tragic cases emerge, we will continue to update this list, in our ongoing efforts to spread awareness about the deadly ramifications of hill hopping. If you are aware of an unlisted case, please get in touch with us to ensure it gets documented. Our ultimate goal is to educate as many people as possible about the dire reality of this dangerous activity, with the hope of preventing further tragedies.