Where Have All the Hitchhikers Gone? A New Freakonomics Radio Podcast

Where have all the hitchhikers gone?

That’s the question we ask in our latest podcast. (You can download/subscribe at iTunes, get the RSS feed, listen live via the media player above, or read the transcript here.) Anyone who has been around long enough can observe that hitchhiking numbers have plummeted. So Freakonomics Radio set out to find the numbers on thumbers and found … well, not much. Apparently hitchhiking never qualified as an important-enough mode of the transportation sector to generate heavy-duty empirical research.

So we take a whack at explaining the phenomenon. Here’s Levitt’s take:

LEVITT: Hitchhiking is a classic example of what an economist would call a matching market, where there’s a person who wants a ride, and there’s a person who’s willing to give a ride. There was some sort of equilibrium in which there was a set of people who wanted to hitchhike, and there was a set of people who were willing to pick them up. And somehow that equilibrium got destroyed. So the question is what happened to the equilibrium?

Bill James

What do you think happened to the equilibrium? Seems obvious enough: fear, right? Hitchhiking became too risky. Remember the warnings from your parents? The caution campaigns by the media? The gruesome imagery?

But was hitchhiking really that dangerous? Baseball statistician and Popular Crime author Bill James (read his earlier Q&A) says no. In fact, he believes our fears probably made it worse.

JAMES: If you have a certain number of violent people running around hitchhiking, [for] the few other people you have running around hitchhiking, the more dangerous it becomes to pick up a hitchhiker. It drove itself out of existence. Basically nobody hitchhikes anymore. … And the real danger was not hitchhiking; it was the fact that you had a certain number of random crazy people who will hurt you. As long as you have the same number of random crazy people you have the same number of violent crimes, and eliminating hitchhiking doesn’t, in my opinion, do anything to change that. So, it was a social change that protects the individual. I mean, I don’t pick up, I wouldn’t pick up hitchhikers either. I’m not nuts. I do that to protect myself. But protecting myself has no value to society.

But fear was only one part of the story, says transportation scholar Alan Pisarski. The demand for hitchhiking fell for a variety of other reasons — including a rise in the supply of drivers:

PISARSKI: In the seventies is when women began to gain greater access to driver’s licenses. If you look at the distributions today, men and women in terms of driver’s licensing is almost identical and almost ubiquitous. It’s in the ninety-two, ninety-three percentile for both men and for women.

There was also a spike in car ownership. Here, from a Pisarski report called Commuting in America III, is a look at the rise in multiple-car households:


Furthermore, modern cars last much longer, which means that yesterday’s hitchhiking candidate is more likely to have bought or inherited an affordable and reliable used car.

All these improvements help contribute to a stark and sobering statistic: the average vehicle commuting to and from work today carries just 1.1 people, which means about 80 percent of car capacity goes unused. Pisarski calls this a “colossal” inefficiency. It’s one reason he is chairing a session on hitchhiking at the upcoming Transportation Research Board Annual Meeting. The idea, Pisarski says, is to start a discussion that considers the past in order to inform future policy.

Can anyone say “hitchhiking renaissance?” To that end, you’ll also hear from a group of organized hitchhikers, or “sluggers,” in the D.C. area. You’ll also hear from New York Times theater critic and Shock Value author Jason Zinoman about Hollywood’s contribution to our hitchhiking fear; one story about how hitchhiking can go terribly wrong; and from a band of modern hitchhikers who use their thumbs less out of necessity than a sense of adventure.

Audio Transcript

Where Have All the Hitchhikers Gone?

Stephen J. DUBNER: I was out in California not long ago and I saw somebody doing something that I hadn’t seen done in a long time – something I used to do, during college, out of necessity. What do you think it was? Go ahead, think about it. I posted this riddle on the Freakonomics blog. You want to hear some of the answers I got? Here you go: Eating ramen noodles … using a phone book … hanging wet laundry on a clothesline … inserting a floppy disk …  All right, those are all very good answers. But not what I’m looking for.

DUBNER: Jason, what are we watching here?

Jason ZINOMAN: This is the beginning of Texas Chainsaw Massacre with these kids are going  to visit a graveyard and they pick up a pretty scraggily looking hitchhiker.

DUBNER: Jason Zinoman is a theater critic for The New York Times, and the author of a book called Shock Value, about horror films of the 1970’s. So in this movie, a van full of teenagers decide, after some debate, to pick up a hitchhiker. He just got off his shift at the slaughterhouse – his face is streaked with blood, and he’s talking about bludgeoning cows to death.

DUBNER: It’s pretty clear by now that we’re wishing that he hadn’t been picked up.

ZINOMAN: Pretty much, yes.

DUBNER: There’s not really any good scenario that we can imagine coming out of this.

ZINOMAN: No, no, it’s true. It only gets worse, it only gets worse.

DUBNER: Now, let me just say this – I hate scary movies. I’d never watch one for pleasure. But this is research. It grew out of that trip to California, where I saw that thing I hadn’t seen in a while. I called up Steve Levitt, my Freakonomics friend and co-author. Turns out he’d just had the same thought:

Steve LEVITT: So, just yesterday, I was driving down the road in a resort in the Wisconsin Dells, and there were five kids who were waiting for the bus to come and pick them up. And as I drove by, they stuck out their thumbs as if they were hitchhiking. And the thing that I thought was is how do these kids even know what that means? When’s the last time anyone say a hitchhiker on the road? I haven’t seen a hitchhiker on the road in twenty years. And yet somehow the idea of sticking your thumb up in the air even for these five-year-old kids was still part of their psyche. But it makes you wonder: Why did hitchhiking disappear?


ANNOUNCER: From APM, American Public Media and WNYC: This is FREAKONOMICS RADIO. Today: Where have all the hitchhikers gone? Here’s your host, Stephen Dubner.

DUBNER: All right, so if that’s our question: Where did all the hitchhikers go? That doesn’t seem very hard to answer, does it? Let’s get back to The Texas Chainsaw Massacre. The hitchhiker, the guy who works at the slaughterhouse – now he’s pulled out a switchblade:

DUBNER: Uh oh.

ZINOMAN: Now here’s where he crossed the line. He cuts the…

DUBNER: Oh! Mama! This is why – OK, I’m going to…

ZINOMAN: That’s enough, that’s the final straw. You can…that he cut the guy and he gets kicked out.

DUBNER: And Franklin’s arm is just bleeding like a…

ZINOMAN: Oh, Franklin, it’s just a little cut. You know, it’s…

DUBNER: Yeah, that’s it: hitchhiking died off because it’s dangerous. If. You. Hitchhike. You. Will. Die. That’s the lesson we’ve learned, at least – from horror movies and newspaper headlines. Here’s Levitt again:

LEVITT: If even anybody even thought there were homicidal maniacs who were killing hitchhikers or hitchhikers killing people who picked them up, then certainly that would have the kind of chilling effect on a market that very few things could have.

DUBNER: That’s right, Levitt the economist thinks of hitchhiking as a market, much like any other:

LEVITT: Hitchhiking is a classic example of what an economist would call a matching market where there’s a person who wants a ride, and there’s a person who’s willing to give a ride, and there’s actually usually typically no money changes hands, so somehow there are people getting benefit on both sides of the transaction. The fifties, the sixties, maybe even the seventies, there was some sort of equilibrium in which there was a set of people who wanted to hitchhike, and there was a set of people who were willing to pick them up. And somehow that equilibrium got destroyed. So the question is what happened to the equilibrium?

DUBNER: The assumption is that hitchhiking was so dangerous that people just wised up and stopped doing it. But how dangerous was it? We went looking for data – on hitchhiking itself and on the violence associated with it. And we found pretty much … nothing, at least no worthwhile data. So how common was hitchhiking violence? Did we overreact? Do you remember a few years back, when the media talked about the “Summer of the Shark”? All those scary stories about horrible, disfiguring shark attacks. Now, guess how many fatal shark attacks there were that year – the whole year, around the world. The actual number was four. There were probably more people killed by TV news vans going to cover the shark attacks, right? But when something is really frightening, we get a little bit number-blind. With something like hitchhiking, it might take just one story.

Colleen STAN: I woke up in the morning. It was a gorgeous day. The wildflowers were out, the trees, you know, sprouted all their leaves. The grass is green, because it was spring. It hasn’t dried up yet. It was gorgeous.

DUBNER: That’s Colleen Stan. It was May 19, 1977.

STAN: I had just turned twenty in December. And I was very young and had a very carefree spirit about me. And I was quite impulsive.

DUBNER: Stan was living in Eugene, Oregon, and was planning to visit a friend in Westwood, California, about 360 miles to the south. But her car wouldn’t start. So she decided to hitchhike. She got a ride with some truckers hauling grape juice. They let her off in Red Bluff, California, about an hour and a half from her friend’s house. The truckers even gave her a gallon of juice when they dropped her off. She put her thumb out again.

STAN: A car stopped, and there were five guys in it. And I said thanks, but no thanks. And so they went on their way.

DUBNER: Her next ride was a blue Dodge Colt. There was a young couple inside, with a baby. Looked safe enough. So Stan got in the car.

STAN: So it was a very warm day because it was May. And Red Bluff is in the valley and it’s very warm there. It can get, in the summer time, it can get like 115 degrees there, so it’s a very warm place.  It was a warm day and I was thirsty from traveling and I had taken the juice and I tipped it up to take a drink. And about the same time I tipped it up, the driver presses on the accelerator and jets out back onto the highway to take off. This causes the juice to pour down me. So I was a little irritated with him. I remember I looked up to the front and looked in the review mirror. And he was looking in the review mirror and it gave me a chill down my spine.

DUBNER: The man, Cameron Hooker, and his wife, Janice, wound up kidnapping Colleen Stan. They held her captive for more than seven years and did a variety of horrible things to her. Finally, in 1984, she escaped. Hooker was sentenced to 104 years in prison; his wife got immunity for testifying against him. It became a big media story. The message was clear.

STAN: This is why people shouldn’t hitchhike. Because when you get into a car with someone, you are literally handing your life over to them. It’s just not worth it; it’s too dangerous. Because you can look at someone, you can look the situation and evaluate it, just like I did, and say, this looks like a safe ride. But you don’t know the intent is in someone’s heart, because they don’t’ show that on the outside. You don’t know. And it’s just not worth it, cause life is too valuable to just give it away like that.

DUBNER: You can hardly blame Colleen Stan for feeling this way. But how common are these really bad hitchhiking outcomes? Again, we really don’t know. But life is all about tradeoffs. Every time you do anything, you consider the tradeoff. Should four fatal shark attacks each year keep everyone out of the ocean? Apparently not. But what number would – 40? 400? 4,000? What happens when you start letting relatively small numbers balloon into such a large fear?

Bill JAMES: My father was the kind of person who would stop and help anybody.

DUBNER: That’s Bill James. He’s the guy who helped revolutionize the field of baseball statistics – and he likes writing about crime, too. His latest book is called Popular Crime. James was born in 1949, in Kansas.

JAMES: One time, with two small kids in the car, late at night, coming back from a movie, we saw two black guys, two black adult males standing beside the road. Now, my father was not Spencer Tracy. He was not a violent racist, but he was a man of his generation, and he had the racist attitudes that were common in his generation. Nonetheless, we stopped, we asked them if they needed a ride, and we took them where the needed to go. And the reason why was you just did. It was in the time in place where I grew up, if you saw somebody in need of a ride you gave them a ride.

DUBNER: As James got older, that changed. He remembers hearing PSA’s on the radio, warning drivers not to pick up hitchhikers. In retrospect, he says, hitchhiking took the blame for crime in general – an “attribution problem,” as James calls it. Here, he uses a baseball analogy to explain:

JAMES: In baseball for many years people believed that baseball was seventy-five percent pitching. And the essential reason that they believe this is that they credit the pitcher with wins and losses. And if you credit the pitcher with winning and losing the game, it becomes a tautology that the pitcher is always responsible for winning or losing the game. And it creates the illusion that the pitcher is responsible for much more than he actually is.

If you have a certain number of violent people running around hitchhiking, the few other people you have running around hitchhiking, the more dangerous it becomes to pick up a hitchhiker. It drove itself out of existence. Basically nobody hitchhikes anymore. And the practice has all but disappeared. My point about this is what’s really the social value in this? Hitchhiking is economically efficient because it puts more people in the car. And the real danger was not hitchhiking it was the fact that you had a certain number of random crazy people who will hurt you. As long as you have the same number of random crazy people you have the same number of violent crimes, and eliminating hitchhiking doesn’t, in my opinion, do anything to change that. So, it was a social change that protects the individual. I mean, I don’t pick up, I wouldn’t pick up hitchhikers either.  I’m not nuts. I do that to protect myself. But protecting myself has no value to society.

DUBNER: So the demand for hitchhiking fell because of fear, a breakdown in trust, a selfishness, whatever. But maybe those aren’t the only reasons demand fell. Maybe it fell because supply rose. The supply, that is, of transportation.

Coming up: should there be a hitchhiking renaissance?

[SLUG: It saves me about $20 a day in commuting costs.]


ANNOUNCER: From WNYC and American Public Media, this is Freakonomics Radio. Here’s your host, Stephen Dubner.

DUBNER: Did you ever hitchhike, Levitt?

LEVITT: I did not hitchhike. I was just a little bit too young. By the time I was fifteen, I think hitchhikers had pretty much disappeared.

DUBNER: Well, not quite. I was hitchhiking then. When I was 14 or 15, I started thumbing a ride most mornings before school, in the dark, to get to my job in town, stocking shelves. I hitched all during college, all over the south, and a couple times from North Carolina to upstate New York and back. It was a pretty simple calculation: I wanted to get somewhere, and I couldn’t afford a car. I mean, why else would anyone hitchhike?


DUBNER: Here are a few hitchhikers we found out in Oregon. There were three of them:  Teryani, a guy named Stove, and their friend, George Jemmott.

George JEMMOTT: So, I’m George Jemmott, and I have an engineering degree that I only sometimes use. But my real passion and addiction is travel, and fixing things.

DUBNER: George has hitchhiked a good bit – in about 10 foreign countries and all over the U.S.

DUBNER: So, you do hitchhiking because you want to, not because you have to really, right?

JEMMOTT: Almost always, yeah.

DUBNER: Almost always. So, you’re a twenty-five-year-old American with an engineering degree and parental support, and all that kind of stuff, who helped you buy a car, gave you a hand-me-down car, offered to buy you a train pass to get home, and you say, no I just want to go down the road and put my thumb out. What does that say about you and folks like you in the hitchhiking community now who do it not out of necessity, but out a desire for experience?

JEMMOTT: I think you just hit the nail on the head there, is desire for experience. About me particularly, it’s that I’m addicted to travel and novelty, and I definitely could not normally, and sustainably extend my vacations and travels as much as I have without hitchhiking. And of course my mom’s going to buy me that one train ticket that one time. But I don’t know, she might get tired of it after the second time, third time, fourth time, and I would hate to keep leaning on the parents to keep buying me things all throughout life. The other big motivation for a lot of us hitchhikers, the ones that I’ve talked to is just learning other people’s perspectives on life. And it’s much easier, I think, to get sort of feeling for how someone else lives quickly if you’re riding in a car with them for hours.

DUBNER: So a guy like George Jemmott hitchhikes not really because ne needs to but to “get sort of the feeling for how someone else lives.” But what about the people who might need to hitchhike, out of necessity, but don’t, out of fear? On the other hand: maybe there’s not as much need as we think:

LEVITT: Clearly people are getting richer.

DUBNER: That’s Steve Levitt again. Did you hear what he said?

LEVITT: Clearly people are getting richer, and cars getting better made has to be a big part of it, because it’s an extremely ineffective way to travel, hitchhiking. It’s slow, it’s unpleasant, it’s uncertain. So if you can do something better, whether it’s take a bus, or take a plane, or drive your own car, it’s hard to believe that there are many people who wouldn’t prefer a different mode of transportation.

DUBNER: So maybe hitchhiking started to disappear because fewer people needed a free lift.

Alan PISARSKI: Most reporters ask me how do I get to work, and I tell them I walk about thirty feet from my bedroom to my office.

DUBNER: This is Alan Pisarski. He’s what you might call a scholar of transportation behavior. He used to work for the U.S. Department of Transportation, and wrote a series of books called Commuting in America.

DUBNER: So we are in agreement that there used to be quite a bit of hitchhiking, although we don’t know how much. We are in agreement that there’s much less now, correct?

PISARSKI: Yes.           

DUBNER: So, we want to know where did all those hitchhikers go? Why did so many people stop hitchhiking?

PISARSKI: I guess my reflex, statistical reflex, is the greater availability of automobiles. Well the first part of it is simply driver’s licenses. In the seventies is when women began to gain greater access to drivers licenses, if you look at the distributions today, men and women in terms of driver’s licensing is almost, almost identical and almost ubiquitous. It’s in the ninety-two, ninety-three percentile for both men and for women.

DUBNER: OK, so a lot more people driving – but also, says Pisarski, a lot more cars. In 1969, only three in ten households had more than one car. By 2009? Six in ten.

PISARSKI: Of the change, all of the really significant change occurred in the two- and three-car households. That’s where you saw an explosion and all of the growth.

DUBNER: OK, so you’re telling me more drivers licenses, more cars, talk to me about the cars themselves and longevity.

PISARSKI: I think that’s a very important component. One of the things that people I think don’t recognize, one of the great technological changes that we’ve seen in America in the last thirty years is simply the longevity of the vehicle fleet. Back in the sixties, cars did not last all that long. Today, the average age of a vehicle in America is north of nine years. What that means is that it’s entirely possible to buy a ten or a twelve-year-old small car, perfectly serviceable, still functioning quite adequately, at a very reasonable cost. So, the automobile in that sense has become much more accessible to many parts of the population. I came down to this studio in a fourteen-year-old car.

DUBNER: That makes sense – cheap and easy car ownership helped drive down demand for hitchhiking – along with big changes in how we get around generally.

PISARSKI: The one is the advent of the interstate, which took people off of Main Street and onto roads where walkers are not permitted. And then of course deregulation of aviation in roughly 1980, that had an extraordinary effect on the price of air travel. And so, you know, that made it a whole lot cheaper than standing on a street corner with your thumb out.

DUBNER: But here’s something else worth thinking about. If you care even a little bit about transportation – about the cost, the growing congestion and the risk of accident, the carbon emissions from all those cars on the road – then consider this very sobering statistic: The average car commuting to and from work in the U.S. today rides around with 80 percent of its passenger capacity empty. If our auto fleet were a bus or train fleet, it’d be considered a massive failure.

PISARSKI: One of America’s greatest transportation resources are all those empty seats in automobiles traveling around America. You know, it’s a colossal resource that we do waste.

DUBNER: Given that there is this massive inefficiency with all this empty capacity in cars, do you wish that you know, if you could run the roads a day or a month, do you wish that hitchhiking could come back?

PISARSKI: Yeah, I think I do. And I think maybe we will see some opportunity for it with new technologies and people being more willing to spend time with each other and maybe having some kind of a vetting system that says this guy’s OK that makes people, puts people a little bit more at ease. And then that will, I hope, help people to be more comfortable with that kind of an arrangement.


PISARSKI: Slugging for those who don’t know is basically a kind of organized hitchhiking, where people just line up on the streets. Sometimes there’s a sign, sometimes there’s not.

DUBNER: We sent Alan Pisarski out on the streets of Arlington, Virginia, where there’s a healthy slugging scene.

PISARSKI: Everybody going to a certain area clusters together, cars will come along looking for people going their way so they can qualify to be on the HOV three lanes, which gives them a much faster ride down to the southern suburbs. We’re looking now at about seven or eight cars lined up to pick up people. When we ask folks questions we have to be pretty quick, a little bit nimble, almost like talking to people in a check-out line in the supermarket because they’re more interested in getting in the car and heading home.


I pull up every day...

And says three for Roslyn, three for Pentagon, three for Crystal City...

I might have to wait maybe five, ten minutes for a rider, and then I get on the road.

It saves me about $20 a day in commuting costs.

There’s website that actually has etiquette rules on it.

Don’t talk to a driver unless he talks to you, don’t touch anything in the car unless you ask the driver...

You get to ride in some pretty nice cars, too...

Don’t eat or drink in the car unless you ask...

It’s pretty nice little arrangement

So some people will talk to you the whole way down, some people will just keep their mouths shut.

I usually get home at the same time every day.

DUBNER: Slugging is a lot more organized than hitchhiking. And a lot of these people are government employees, wearing suits, and ID tags – so they don’t exactly conjure the image of the slaughterhouse hitchhiker from Texas Chainsaw Massacre, or the creepy couple who kidnapped Colleen Stan. Of course, the normal risks of auto travel still apply.

WOMAN: I was a rider and the driver was falling asleep behind the wheel.

PISARSKI: Uh oh. Uh oh.

WOMAN: So you have to try to, you know, wake up! If you’re going to fall asleep, let me out I’ll find a way home, or try to keep your eyes open.

DUBNER: What are you scared of, and why? Are your fears rational? Or do you let the small likelihood of a terrible outcome stop you from doing things you want to do? You know what I think we fear most in this country? Strangers. We’ve done a great job – through our media, our movies, our politics – of convincing ourselves that strangers are dangerous. But if you look at the data, you might be surprised. Three of every four murder victims in this country knew their killer – and of course each of us knows a lot fewer people than there are strangers. More than 60 percent of rape victims knew their attacker. If you look at the data on missing children, you’ll see that an incredibly small percentage of these incidents – way, way less than one-tenth of one percent – are what we think of as the stereotypical kidnapping by a stranger. Now, how dangerous was hitchhiking? We may never really know. But almost certainly far, far, far less dangerous than we came to think of it. Are we worse off for abandoning it? That’s what I asked Bill James.

DUBNER: So there was an equilibrium that existed, and then it was destroyed in large part because of fear. And the equilibrium went away, and it’s probably impossible to recreate.  Do you think it’d be a good thing if that fear could be suspended, the equilibrium could be recreated, and hitchhiking could be reinvigorated?

JAMES: Yes, I do. And the reason I do is that we have a better society when we can trust one another. And wherever and whenever there’s an evaporation of systems based on trust I think there’s a loss to society. I also think that one evaporation of trust in society tends to feed another, and that we would have a better society if we could, rather than promoting fear and working to reduce the places where terrible things happen, if we could promote trust and work on building societies in which people are more trustworthy. I think we’re all better off in a million different ways if and when we can do that.

DUBNER: So let’s see: our economy is still sputtering, which means money is tight for transportation and everything else … when we drive to work, 80 percent of our passenger capacity is wasted … and, as Bill James puts it, a loss of trust means a loss to society. So if you’re feeling a little bit patriotic today, a little bit optimistic, a little bit adventuresome -- go ahead, stick your thumb out.



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  1. bilal says:

    actually there are still lots of hitch hikers…. its just that instead of you their thumb they use all their fingers to post and look up rideshares on craigslist and kijiji.

    there might have been a drop in numbers yes as i agree with the point that there is an oversupply of drivers…. but the traditional hitchhiker is very much alive.

    Well-loved. Like or Dislike: Thumb up 12 Thumb down 3
    • frankenduf says:

      totally agree- Levitt’s quote is ironic and shows he’s too old to realize the internet has made the hitchiking equlibrium more efficient- reason # 2564 why the free internet benefits the citizens

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      • Mike B says:

        And the internet can help filter out the crazy people through a reputation system. Since that wasn’t a huge problem to begin with it isn’t that hard to solve. Hell, there is a thriving internet trade in couch surfing and room renting which is much more risky than giving someone a life in a car.

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      • jamie says:

        yes I also was really surprised that they never mentioned rideshare. but rideshare is kind of different because normally you have to split the money for gas or make some other financial contribution. It can be cheap, but rideshare is normally not free.

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    • Domino says:

      No they don’t! People don’t go online to hitchike, that’s rediculous. I used to hitchike all the time when I was young…it would more or less be a spur of the moment decision should I decide walking was too far or if it started raining. Today is no different, you don’t consult the internet before sticking your thumb out to hitch a ride,lol.

      [WORDPRESS HASHCASH] The poster sent us ‘0 which is not a hashcash value.

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  2. AaronS says:

    Where did all the hitchhikers go? Killed! Almost every one of them. By serial killers.

    Someone needs to investigate Bill James. I’m almost certain that he is claiming all of this to simply get us to let down our guard and go hitchhiking again. After all, if he’s a serial killer who concentrates on hitchhikers, he needs to drum up more business.

    No need to thank me. It’s my job to watch out for the rest of you.

    Hot debate. What do you think? Thumb up 29 Thumb down 29
  3. Brett says:

    Hidden due to low comment rating. Click here to see.

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  4. la_boheme says:

    Organized hitchhiking does exist in Germany, mainly for longer stretches between cities and countries – Mitfahrzentrale. Last time I used it (a year ago) I had a hard time finding a ride – demand for passenger seats far exceeded supply.

    Otherwise, hitchhiking is still quite common out in the Russian countryside, for example, where cars are relatively expensive, there are far more male drivers than female drivers and bus and train connections can be few and far between. So the image of a typical hitchhiker in Russia isn’t a hippie or a potential mass murderer, but a stout provincial women with a large bag of produce and a couple of children.

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  5. rich says:

    I still pick up hitch hikers here in the US. The mountains (at least in CO) are full of them. Hikers getting back to their cars, boaters headed back up stream, skiers back up the pass.

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    • Jak E Oh says:

      Thanks Rich. I used to hitch a lot and couldn’t remember the last time I did. Your post reminded me that I hitched a ride up Pikes Peak and skied down.

      Last time I picked up, an exceedingly well dress and articulate man tried to scam me out of money. That ended the game for me.

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    • Nathan says:

      As one of the people who benefits from people who give me rides back up Loveland Pass after a nice powder run, I thank you.

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  6. jesse says:

    So I am an American living and working in Chilean Patagonia and hitchhiking is super common here. People from all walks of life both hitchhike and pick up hitchhikers. In fact, I just hitchhiked to this internet cafe. The USA is just totally messed up with common decency and love for their fellow man.

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    • Tim says:

      I’ve never once SEEN someone attempt to hitchhike. I’m not sure how this is a reflection on my sense of common decency.

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      • smartalek says:

        Don’t take it personally.
        The implications are societal — both in the disappearance of hitchhiking as a social norm (presumably because if you tried it now, you would be standing out there for a long time), and because of the prevalence of laws against it, both betokening coarsening of our communal spirits.
        What I’d like to know is WHEN hitchhiking disappeared.
        It was certainly a done thing when I was a kid in the 1970s.
        Now it clearly isn’t.
        But I can’t say I ever noticed when it disappeared — or whether it did so suddenly, or only gradually when it did.

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  7. Allan says:

    There is an assumption that the rate if hitchhiking today is less tha. It was in the last. How do we know that the assumption is valid?

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  8. Ron S. says:

    I’m guessing the trend line took a dip on or around December 19, 1969.

    C.f., http://www.whosdatedwho.com/tpx_2771055/life-magazine-united-states-19-december-1969/

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  9. Douglas McMorris says:

    There is a site and service I found that seems to offer the modern technological solution to the inconvenience and safety issues mentioned in the podcast, haven’t used it, but look forward to trying it out:

    They also provide and monetary incentive for people to pick up others as those who ride pay a small fee automatically to the driver at the end of the trip.

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  10. jrod says:

    Head to a ski town. Hitchhiking in these parts is still alive and well.

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  11. Adam says:

    I think they’re all here in Boulder, Colorado. On the other hand, there were a lot in West Virginia, which is where I lived before I moved here three months ago.

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  12. Basseteer says:

    We see very few, if any, hitchhikers on the roads here in coastal NSW, Australia (OK this is slightly outside high season). However, on a recent ski trip to NZ’s South Island, we encountered them regularly. We also picked up anyone who looked like they were either on their way up or down the mountain. Now there’s a strategy for an aspirant axe murderer…I never saw any thumbs out in Singapore. Have seen some in South Africa, but fewer than those wanting minibus taxi rides.

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  13. tioedong says:

    I think violence has discouraged hitchhikers, especially for women.
    And I have only picked up those in obvious distress (broken down car) and when I had a man in the car with me.

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  14. pawnman says:

    Hitchhiking seems an awfully risky way to get to work…not in the sense that you might get murdered, but in the sense that what happens when no one picks you up and you don’t get to the office? Seems like while the 1.1 passengers per car statistic is dismal, perhaps organized carpooling can help instead of random hitchhiking.

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  15. James says:

    It’s a mater of legality also. Some state laws prohibit walking a highway route. As a student who could hardly afford a car(purchase+insurance+upkeep+gas) and traveled between cities regularly, it killed me to see so many cars drive mostly empty in the same direction. We need a more efficient ride share system that connects hidden demand with
    potential supply.

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  16. Walneyman says:

    Here is a factor to consider (unsupported by evidence but a worthy conjecture): Hitchhiking by women increased in the sixties and seventies with more women in college and the women’s liberation movement. This also resulted in more incidents (or perhaps more stories about) women hitchhikers being assaulted, which contributed to the general perception of the dangers of hitchhiking. If hitchhiking had stayed a primarily male activity, would it have declined so much?

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  17. Griff says:

    Strangely enough, hitchhiking has also totally disappeared in the UK…. it was still common in the late 1970’s.

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  18. MW says:

    I used to fairly frequently drive a ~600 km journey in New Zealand (North Island, State Highway 1) and I almost always stop for hitchhikers. Although I didn’t take statistics, I estimate a mean of about 0.8 hitchikers per trip. Only once have I not stopped because I felt the hiker looked threatening. I do feel the number of hitchhikers has reduced since the 70’s and 80’s, but I don’t have evidence. There was a highly publicized and never solved case of a young woman hitchhiker who disappeared in the ’70s. (1974?)

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  19. Jim says:

    I did all my hitchhiking in the 60’s. From New Mexico to North Dakota while in the military.
    Then three times from Ohio to New Orleans and back, and many other shorter trips. Also all over Western Europe, and then to Chile and back.
    In the states I was picked up by many men who had hitchhiked during the depression.

    It was an unbelievable experience. A half century later I still tell stories of the people I met, and I feel sorry that others can not easily experience what I did.

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  20. Margie says:

    When I lived in Maui about ten years ago hitchhiking was alive and well and how a surprising number of people got to work. Our car broke down once taking someone to the airport and it was a wonderful feeling to know that getting a ride to the airport or back home was just a matter of sticking up a thumb. I’ve never felt so generally safe in such a generally friendly and laid back place.

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    • Danielle says:

      I hitchhiked a ton in Hawai’i a few years ago, using it as my main form of transportation for several months. Only had 1-2 bad experiences — and they were more “sketchy” than actually dangerous or violent. Nothing bad happened.

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  21. Lynn says:

    To find the reasons hitchhiking has declined, it would be useful to look at one place in the US where it is very active; the US Virgin Islands. The USVI provided a great natural experiment as many of the cultural factors (exposure to news and movies) are consistent with mainland US. By studying the differences, a better idea of the cause for reduction in hitchhiking could be obtained.

    On St. Thomas and St. John, hitchhiking is not only common, but it is difficult to walk anywhere along the road without someone asking if you need a ride. I am comfortable both giving and taking rides, and I am comfortable with my teenage daughter doing the same. I think this can be attributed to several factors, although I only have antidotal evidence:
    • It is hot.
    • There are many hills between towns
    • There are many people who do not have cars
    (if 6 of 10 families had 2 or more cars there would be no place to drive them all…)
    • Lack of reliable public transportation.
    (Although the evolution of the “Safari dollar bus” is an interesting economic story.)
    • The standard greeting between people who have not met (they are not called strangers) is eye contact and a cheerful “Good Morning” (“Good Afternoon”, or “Good Night”)

    If Dubner and Levitt took a couple months to research the issue (I recommend January and February) a lot could be learned from a trip to the islands.

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  22. Daedalus B Logos says:

    I believe we underestimate the factors that have changed in our society and tend to over focus on a single cause without attempting to correlate attributing factors. This discussion shows the beneficial economics of obtaining/maintaining a low cost car. However, there seems to be no effort taking into account that in a growing service based economy, there is a larger percentage of the workforce working at different hours. A recent study attempting to exemplify the negative effects of light pollution, establish a much higher rate at which men/women are working at later hours. They step too far in correlating vitamin D deficiency (working at night) with increase in incidence of breast cancer. Regardless, if the fear is increased, just as likely that hitchhiking at night is much less achievable. Therefore having a car is much desirable if not required.

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  23. Patrick says:

    What about cell phones? People are able to call for help now and no longer need to hitch a ride to the nearest town.

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  24. DaveyNC says:

    Ha! Just stumbled across this possible reason why no more hitchhikers: http://goo.gl/UogIl

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  25. aaron bell says:

    I hitchhike everywhere. Infact, over the past 8 years i’ve hitchiked through 30 countries and only had good experiences. Check out my story at http://www.vagablogging.net/the-complete-guide-to-hitchhiking.html or check out my photo albulm on facebook called “the great hitchhiking race 6″ where it shows how 27 people can hitchhike across the country at the same time with only a few hours difference between hitchhiking and driving yourself.

    http://www.facebook.com/thehitchhiker !

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  26. Joel says:

    It’s funny that I’ve never verified this, but I never hitchhike because I’ve been told that it was illegal in the US.

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  27. kyle says:

    Anybody know the name of the track that plays at the end of this podcast? Its killer! Thanks!

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  28. Vicki says:

    It’s not just fear of the potential crazy person with his thumb out. It’s fear of the potential crazy person who now has you trapped in a moving vehicle.

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  29. DrC says:

    As a few have mentioned, hitchhiking is common on mountain passes where people ski backcountry, and on whitewater rivers where people need shuttles. I think this practice persists in these scenarios because there is a safety in knowing something about the person you are picking up (or the person picking you up, if they have racks on their vehicle). Most people who have given me rides on the river are also kayakers. The roads typically go right by the river, so it’s obvious what’s going on when I’m soaking wet in my swim trunks headed back up river.

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  30. varun says:

    well…i am one of the few hitchhikers still going on (atleast while in college and without my own transportation or money)..and i am from India, supposedly more unsafe than a developed country…hitchhiking is down but not out…and the best way to travel a place

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  31. Shimstu says:

    In Israel, including in the West Bank, folks hitch all the time. We call it “tremping.” Someone told me once that was an Italian name. Many people, including kids going to school, use tremping as their daily form of transportation. One time a guy pulled up to a tremping spot (“trempiata”) in the West Bank, where all the hitchers are Jewish settlers, mostly religious. I leaned in the care, and the guy smiled humbly at me and said, “you should know, I’m a Palestinian.” It was fascinating that he would even bother to pull over and risk some sort of confrontation or unpleasantness. A teenager and I got in the car, and we rode into Jerusalem with him. Pretty cool.

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  32. Chad says:

    Where have all the hitchhikers gone. It is obvious that that you have not been to the west, particularly the Northwest. We hitchhike everywhere, especially in lieu of the entire lack of public transit in rural areas. Hitchhiking and picking up hitchhikers one of those karmic risk taking decisions.

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  33. Zach says:

    At least as of the summer of 2001 hitchhiking was alive and well in Alaska. I spent a few weeks with some college kids who were working at Denali National Park and all of them hitchhiked between Denali and Anchorage regularly. We had no problem finding rides with a variety of kinds of people. I wonder if this supports the supply/demand theory (less public transportation, more people without cars, longer distances to travel). I seriously doubt the risks of hitchhiking in Alaska are any lower, but both riders and drivers had no fears about it like we do in the lower 48.

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  34. AndyT says:

    Great podcast – makes me think! My teenage and college age kids like it too. Makes for interesting conversations.

    I had to write because shortly after listening to your hitch hiking podcast, I happened to hear The Doors classic song Riders on the Storm. Their line “If you give this man a ride, sweet Emily will die” really stuck out….


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  35. ben says:

    I still hitch hike when I’m home in the UK (Gloucestershire), its the cheapest fastest way of getting around as the public transport is terrible and I don’t have a car due to money/eco issues.

    Used to work 4 miles away when I was 18 – 21. I used to hitch and was late about twice!!!!

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  36. john orton says:

    There’s an interesting scheme in Cuba (it’s ok, I’m allowed to go there, I’m British).
    At specific places along the roads, all drivers of publicly owned vehicles have to stop and pick up the hitch-hikers who congregate there.
    Since almost all vehicles are publicly owned, this becomes a huge terminus and seems to work really well.

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  37. Marco Cannavacciuolo says:

    “42” is the answer to the question about life, universe and everything. It comes from Douglas Adams’ “Hitchhikers’ guide to the Galaxy”.

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  38. jamie says:

    I was also really surprised no one mentioned rideshare.
    I’ve used rideshare a number of times, both as a driver and as a passenger. Besides being on the internet rideshare differs from traditional hitch hiking in that it normally requires some sort of monetary contribution from the passenger.
    I think that the increase in the price of gasoline has made both drivers and passengers more aware of the value of the space inside a car. I would feel like a mooch if I used hitch hiking as my daily means of transportation. I’m only 25 years old and I’m curious to know if people felt like mooches when they were hitch hiking in the 60’s?

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  39. Mike Martin says:

    Here in Germany we still have lots of hitch-hiking. It works a bit differently than sticking your thumb out on the side of the highway. We have a program called “mitfahrgelegenheit”. It’s really simple, you just go to their website, type in when and where you want to go and somebody who is going to that place on that date will take you along. You usually pay a portion of the gas money, but it works on the honor system. Sometimes one driver will take 4 passengers along from Paris to Berlin for example. Maybe people feel safer using this system because you have to put your name into a system but really it would be easy to fake an identity… I don’t know why we aren’t affraid of doing this like the Americans and hitch-hiking but you never ever hear of any horor stories. I have nice looking 25 year old female friends that will drive or ride with random men without the least bit of hesitation…. Funny to see the difference in mentality, or?!

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  40. Sophia Papageorgiou says:

    In Germany, they have actually created an online platform to match drivers and hitchhikers. Removes the risk of hitchhiking while making it more efficient http://www.mitfahrgelegenheit.de/

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  41. Eduardo says:

    Here is where you can find today’s hitch hikers http://sfbay.craigslist.org/rid/

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  42. jake3_14 says:

    This was the sorriest piece of speculation and confirmation bias masquerading as journalism I’ve heard in awhile. When Levitt interviewed the only guy only person who actually has studied the matter, he completely ignored his reasoning, and went back to his touchy-feely thesis that fear-mongering and the resultant breakdown in trust were the primary reasons for the decline in hitchhiking. Over and over, Levitt asserted a possible reason, then failed to back it up with credible evidence. That Levitt completely ignored the influence of the internet makes is incomprehensible.

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  43. shary boyle says:

    Wow. This entire program was written from a completely male perspective- with almost no gender analysis to speak of. You call yourself social science?? I am a female and loved hitching in Canada during the early ’90’s when I was a teen- like many other adventurous kids way after the hippie days. And every single woman I have ever traded tales with about hitchhiking has a near-miss rape, rape or super-creep come-on story. It was of interest and anger to me that only men’s perspectives were offered on this subject- with the exception of the one woman who paid so dearly for her openness. I loved the idea of hitchhiking- for all the best reasons. But male drivers looking for ‘payback’ took that liberty away, and made the innocence of sticking out a thumb one more social activity that 50% of the population are not welcome or wise to fully explore. I am a brave free woman and despise fear-mongering, but how can this episode not even mention the disparity of gender risk for this activity? Ever heard of the Highway of Tears?? Cash, grass, or ass- no rides for free.

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  44. Betterist says:

    It really wouldn’t be that hard to bring back hitchhiking in a big way with smartphones. All you have to do is create an ebay style market where users have a feedback mechanism and vetting process with photos so you know who to pick up, create a Co-ride like app to facilitate the market, create a payment system so that people with cars have a little incentive to pick up riders when they can, and to maximize the usefulness make the system smart enough to find all trips that would get you closer to your destination and utilize them to minimize your travel time. If you look at the video below, but envision using more than one ride to get where you are going, you’ll see how simple of an experience it could be.


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  45. Avivit says:

    Where I grew up, the common assumption was that if you needed to hitch a ride, you were too poor to have a car and thus more likely to be up to something shady.

    Here in Israel, hitchhiking is very common, especially among soldiers and religious people. Cars are very expensive and public transportation leaves a lot to be desired. Women are warned against it, but overall, people have a lot of trust in one another here.

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  46. Dave/wesley says:

    I just hitch hiked from Portland oregon to Bend Oregon, 160 miles. It took me 2 minutes, 1/2 a cigarette, in order to catch a ride.

    The last time I did it, I flew a sign to bend oregon from Government Camp to Bend, Oregon, it took me less than thirty seconds.

    Hitchhiking is alive and well…
    of course, I’m not a bum, I just dress well and like to travel for free :)

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    • Suzanne says:

      Cheers to you! Portland being my home town and did you know that there was a hitchhikers convention there in July? I guess it is still alive but not like it used to be or still could be if people weren’t so damned afraid of everything.


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  47. Suzanne says:

    This Summer my Boyfriend and I Hitchhiked from California to Alaska, around Alaska and back again. It is truly a lost art. We are making a book about it. Our experience was amazing, no problems in 7500 miles! Whew!
    If you’re interested in our stories, we kept a blog http://www.thelostartofhitchhiking.com

    I hope people start to realize that in this day and age, there is no place for fear. It is hard to find statistics but last I read more than twice as many Hitchhikers were the victims of Hitching crimes…

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  48. Zesty says:

    FYI…….if you visit Washington, DC you will find a large number of hitch-hikers on 14th St. NW near the National Mall. These hitch-hikers are called slugs who mainly hitch-hike rides into Virginia.

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  49. StarFin says:

    We Hitchhike! thelostartofhitchhiking.com

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  50. Suzanne says:

    I’m stunned at how many people are still so fearful of HH! Statistically, there have been very few HH crimes. I realize that the ones that have made history are pretty bad but worse has happened, more frequently by people just walking down the street.
    This Summer my BF and I hitchhiked 7500 miles from California to Alaska and back again. Not one problem. People were kind, generous and ultimately changed my perspective on humanity.
    We kept a photo blog, if you feel like checking it out. http://www.thelostartofhitchhiking.com
    I believe it’s time to revive this lost art and learn to trust one another again. Use your common sense and you’ll be fine.

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  51. I picked up a hitchhiker a few years ago when I was in high school…it wasn’t so bad. She seemed to be on crack though which was a little unsettling.

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  52. NoelW says:

    This debate is about more than hitchhiking. It shows how blinkered “experts” tend to trust their gut on issues outside their direct experience and without research.

    I’m a 5-foot-9 white male who hitchhiked across the US and back three times in my 20s during the early 1980s. I used to routinely hitch to NYC, DC and Boston from Philly all the time. I was never in danger and never scared. Sometimes I was picked up by old ladies and families. Why? Because I was the best-dressed hitchhiker they’d ever seen and the “PHILA” and “SF” signs I made were hand-lettered works of art.

    Hitching is dangerous only if you look like a stoner or a bum, because then only stoners or bums will pick you up! Safe hitchhiking depends on appearing like the people you want to ride with. In fall I wore corduroys, a tweed jacket, sweater and button-down shirt. Summer was jeans and a button-down shirt — never a T-shirt or shorts. “Worst” experiences in 21,000 miles of hitching? Three awkward come-ons by gay men.

    The internet has made hitchhiking obsolete, nothing else. Frankenduf is correct. How funny to see all these brilliant experts speculate about danger and the availability of cars while missing the obvious — that hitchhiking is in its essence a rudimentary form of physical print advertising that announces the need for a ride! In my experience, it was an efficient form of advertising because everyone passing by belonged to my target audience. But holding up a sign at a roadside is still not nearly as efficient as posting a request on an Internet ride board. So the passing of hitchhiking is part of the ongoing story of the passing and marginalization of all print media. It was perhaps the first and most primitive print communication form killed by the web, though I’m sure readers can think of others.

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  53. Stew Green says:

    – Cellphones are the main reason hitch-hiking is generally much easier these days than 15 years ago I’ve got a cellphone the drivers got a cellphone so neither of us is really alone with a stranger for more than a second. + triangulation etc.
    – Context is everything & there are many contexts for hitch-hiking outside the normal north American film version.
    – In many contexts danger doesn’t enter into the argument. And even in the context shown in north American films it’s no more dangerous than many other everyday things.
    – I’m pretty sure I have hitch-hiked in 100+ countries & in some countries cultural context e.g. Southern Europe in is much more difficult than others.

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  54. Martha Swaim says:

    I hitchhiked in the late 1960s enough to have three near misses. However, two of my young friends were killed. One was killed by the hitchhiker he picked up. The hitchhiker then stole his car and was found several days and several humdred miles away. The other friend was the hitchiking passenger. When she resisted advances, he threw her out of the car and drove back and forth on top of her. She lived to go to the hospitlal with every bone in her body broken, but eventually died. Before you hitchhike, take a really good self defense class. Then go on line and find out how many sex offenders live in the areas where you plan to travel. I really can’t recommend hitchhiking alone. It would be far better to travel with another human or a large dog.

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  55. Andy Waterhouse says:

    Fear Propagated by “Bad” News
    The fear of hitchhiking is part of a larger issue of hearing (bad) news from a larger population. Before we had national distribution of scary but “bleeding” local news from the entire country, no one in California heard that a hitchhiker in Illinois was murdered. This event would have had a 1/10^6 chance in the US, at most. But, when those local tragedies started getting distributed nationally, we reacted to hearing the bad news. We are wired to think that if we hear something has happened (in our country) the chance of it affecting us is at least 1/100. It seems that is the smallest “chance” we can imagine, so if we hear news that we can relate to, we think it can happen to us at a rate we need to be concerned with. News from another country is irrelevant in general.

    So in response to the is new news practice, we adopted all sorts of useless and, in my opinion, socially and developmentally destructive, practices, like keeping our kids locked up at home or organizing the hell out of their after school time. In my little town where there has never been a stranger abduction in the last 100 years, parents think it is unsafe or unethical to let your kids play unsupervised after school, i.e. drop off their stuff and explore the neighborhood. They have to be at soccer, ballet, music lessons, swimming, etc…

    I am sure there are plenty of other habits we have adopted in response to fear of a stranger doing something that happens to 3 people in the US each year (chances are 1/10^8), but something outrageous enough to get national press coverage. So we have abandoned hitchhiking, but don’t wear bike helmets.

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  56. leigh says:

    Why is there nothing posted about the awful story of the woman hitchhiker who was kidnapped for 7 years? That was so sad and seems to sum up why no one should hitch hike.

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  57. Dan Margulies says:

    Forty or so years ago I hitched across the US twice, through seven countries in Europe, and up and down the east coast. Among other, more pleasant, experiences I:

    1. Had a driver pull a gun from under his seat north of Binghamton, NY and start waving it around while talking about how this was good fighting country.
    2. Had a driver in Vermont pull into a dark rest area and start asking about my sexual experience until I stuck a marlin spike gently into his side…upon which he took me to the next exit.
    3. Had a ride out of west Berlin (1969) where a guy in the passenger seat stripped off his trench coat to reveal some sort of uniform as he jumped out in a field between watchtowers and the driver turned to me and said “you didn’t see that.”
    4. Got a ride near the California/Arizona border in the summer of 1968 in a car with a passenger with a drop of blood on his shirt who introduced himself as Charles Manson (I’d never hear the name before and I suppose it could have been).

    It seemed like a good idea at the time. :)

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  58. Eric Masaba says:

    So how about an exchange for transit – an open marketplace with feedback built in.

    Texxi is thus a system that enables the dynamic pricing and allocation of the “river of empty seats” in all the vehicles within an urban automotive fleet.

    In many cities like Liverpool and Brisbane, many thousands of extra people congregate in the city centre on weekends for entertainment. With little public transport revellers can stand in taxi lines for two hours or more. Many walk a dozen miles to get home. Fighting routinely breaks out, placing added burdens on police..

    Prospective passengers message their intended destination address to the system which aggregates them, placing priority on selecting companions from predefined “groups”. If no group members are present, Texxi matches on other personal preferences. When a ridematch has been made, passengers receive the vehicle details (driver’s name, registration plate) as well as a pickup location. Similarly, drivers receive location and passenger details.

    Although initially demonstrated as an exclusively SMS-based system, the overall concept is to allow any suitable messaging mechanism communion with the exchange. The patent application from 2005 – 2006 shows this.

    Firstly read each of:

    Market Size and Opportunity ( http://bit.ly/vtpi-EqTransit-3 )
    The New Transport Economy ( http://bit.ly/vtpi-EqTransit-1 )
    The 7 Modes of Texxi ( http://www.slideshare.net/secret/4TWoRsPso04SeZ )

    And for interest, here are some news reports.

    http://www.worldchanging.com/archives/003216.html ( 2005 WorldChanging Article )

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  59. Karl Johnson says:

    Excellent podcast. As a parent I questioned all of the fears parents have about their kids being taken by strangers. The book “Raising Free-Range Kids” I read a while back looks at the stats in the same light as this podcast does.

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  60. Evan says:

    Interesting article, it seems very much alive. I have done it on my bike trip when i broke my wheel a few times, i have done it in france, and Romania is huge on hitch hiking. If i recall Netherlands has liftplaatz for thumbing rides. It may not be as popular as back in the day, but its still there and I see alot of smaller roads with people hitching, especially up oregon, cali and washington. Too many good stories and good times to pass up. Maybe i am just crazy then

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  61. Darwin says:

    I used to hitchhike in the late ’70s and early ’80s.

    Most of people offering rides back then had been in the military after WWII. Back in their day, when they’d get leave, if they didn’t have a buddy going the same direction who had a car, they would hitchhike. Many of these old guys told me that being on the needy end of the transaction back then made them a lifelong picker-upper of hitchhikers. (Of course, they didn’t say it quite like that)

    Truckers were the only other large contingent. They were for interstate travel and you had to have a sign. Their motivation was someone to keep them awake with conversation.

    I think the passing of that generation of just after WWII is an additional reason there is less hitchhiking.

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  62. chael says:

    I hitchhike a lot. Here’s a relevant link to my writings about hitchhiking through Latin America…http://www.velabas.com. I think the problem with making sense of hitchhiking is that often it cannot simply be described by the supply and demand of transportation options. Many hitchhikers are not hitchhiking because they don’t have a car, and many are not hitchhiking because they don’t have the money for a bus. They’re hitchhiking because it’s a way to better understand a place, and to meet strange people. Despite what you might think, hitchhiking is actually once more on the rise. The USA is slowly catching up as well, but in Latin America and Europe, for example, you see many. Websites like couchsurfing, which, once someone gets over their false instinctual reaction that it’s inherently dangerous, opens them up to the world of hitchhiking as well. When you send a couchrequest, for example, hitchhiking is an option under the drop down list of transportation methods. There is also an active hitchhikers group on couchsurfing. There are also hitchhiking organizations, principle among them being digihitch.com. Hitchhiking, I urge, should not be analogous with ride share, and should definitely not connote internet organization. I despise when society bends a word to their perceived meaning. Hitch HIKING, means that you’re throwing your hitch (thumb), and you’re often walking.

    Well, that’s my two cents. Pick up hitchhikers… it’s unlikely that they’re murder or rob you.

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  63. RkRoose says:

    I’m sure there are fewer hitchhikers than there were 30 or 40 years ago. However, there are still a good number of hitchhikers out there. One reason most people don’t see them is because they are in their office or home for all or most of the day and therefore completely unaware of what transpires on the interstates and highways.

    During the 1990’s, I spent almost 5 years hitchhiking around the states, Mexico, the Bahamas and Venezuela and there were a lot of other hitchhikers out there during that time. I’d never really seen many hitchhikers until I went hitchhiking. It’s difficult for one to know what is going on as far as road life, or hitchhiking, is concerned until they get out there.

    If you’re interested, I just published a memoir about my experiences on Amazon- http://www.amazon.com/Travels-Road-Dog-Hitchhiking-Americas/dp/1478348461/ref=sr_1_1?s=books&ie=UTF8&qid=1351401742&sr=1-1&keywords=travels+with+a+road+dog

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  64. Tim Shey says:

    I have hitchhiked the United States for a number of years. I met a lot of great people. I think there are a lot less hitchhikers today then there were 20 or 30 years ago.

    “Bill Would Legalize Hitchhiking in State”

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  65. Tim Shey says:

    I have had two books published on hitchhiking: “High Plains Drifter: A Hitchhiking Journey Across America” (2008) and “The First Time I Rode a Freight Train & other hitchhiking stories” (2012).


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  66. steffen says:

    oh I just found this podcast now and realize, that this is exactly the topic I have been writing my bachelor thesis about. If anyone is interested in my analysis, I am more than happy to spread and share. greetings

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  67. Amien Orion says:

    What I found to be a major roadblock to hitch hiking is that truck drivers who are under contract (rather than owners of their own cab) are strictly forbidden from taking hitchers. I don’t know the legal history behind this, but I was told repeatedly that this is a relatively recent development.

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  68. AJ says:

    You might be interested in “HitchBOT The Hitchhiking Robot To Travel Canada This Summer ”


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  69. Alexander says:

    I love this. But i will give you ass, grass or cash if you can give me any reliable data on just how much hitchhiking has declined since the 1970’s. my bet is, not by much.

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    • smartalek says:

      Alexander, I can give you no documented source, just my own personal observations.
      In the 1970s, when I was a little tater tot, I frequently saw — and my family occasionally picked up — hitchhikers in the suburban New York part of the world.
      It was definitely a thing.
      I now live in Boston — a student mecca, a place where one would surely expect to see much hitching, if it were still done — and have spotted one, count him, one (1), hitchhiker in the last 15-20 years. He was walking through Cambridge, headed for the Mass Pike entrance, carrying a sign with his destination.
      I almost did a spit-take, it was so unexpected.
      I’m aware that the plural of “anecdote” is not “data,” but this one person’s experience of this one little corner of America, at least, seems compelling.

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  70. alex says:

    I am a hitch hiker. And hitching is far from dead. Its just underground. Most of us hitchers outside of a local scale know eachother. Ever walked down decatur or frenchman street in new orleans? Down town asheville? Portland? Key west? Full of hitchers and train hoppers.

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    • Greg Petliski says:

      Im heading from NYC to Asheville via Greyhound this winter, and will be thumbing from there out to the southwest!

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  71. greg petliski says:

    I’ve hitched hiked about 2,200 miles over the past year and a month, and while of course its anecdotal, I have yet to have a bad ride, or even a weird ride. I turned down exactly one ride in that time span (for safety reasons that is: I’ve turned down rides that werent going far enough to make leaving a good spot to stand worth it). And I’ve been picked up by the cross section of society. Teachers, carpenters, nurses, small business owners, even a cop once! And not to the station! I have had incredible fun doing this, and I would absolutely recommend it to anyone and everyone. Trust your gut, be smart, and be creative.

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  72. kazooSkiCO says:

    There are plenty of hitch hikers in towns where wages are low, rent is high, and there’s little to no mass transit. In other words, ski towns. I don’t ever remember seeing hitch hikers where I grew up in WI, but they’re all over Grand County, Colorado.

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  73. Toonces says:

    My son hitched rides from San Jose California all the way to New York and back. He also used Craig’s list ride share when he could mostly the people on Craig’s list want money for gas or someone to help drive or both. Sure he had some strange people wanting sexual favors but he said for the most part when he could get rides people were kind and fed him or gave him money etc. he did have a hard time getting rides and walked till near exhaustion with heavy packs and garbage sacks of his belongings. I have recently since picked up several hitch hikers in similar situations because it reminds me of my son trying to get rides. He was a good kid and down on his luck a lot. I hope more people help other people out when they see people in theses situations especially where there is nothing but road and wilderness for miles.

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