/ Motoring

Do you give a thumbs-down to hitchhiking?

The number of people hitchhiking has reached such a low that thumbing a lift could soon be obsolete in the UK. So what’s behind the decline – safety, the trend for lift sharing – or just a cultural shift?

I was quite saddened to hear that 91% of drivers are unlikely to give a hitchhiker a lift, and only 1% of drivers have hitched themselves this year.

I’ve got rather rosy memories of hitching around Newquay on my first holiday away with friends, and of thumbing lifts across Greek islands with a girlfriend.

But then I stopped and thought about it. Have I hitched in the past year? No. Have I picked up a hitchhiker in the past year? No… but then again, I’m not sure I’ve actually seen one in the past year either.

Why have we stopped hitchhiking?

So what’s behind this almighty thumbs down to hitchhiking? Edmund King, of the AA which did the research, had a stab at explaining it:

‘Perhaps cheaper coach travel, growth in car ownership, online lift sharing sites and personal safety fears have all contributed to the decline in hitchhiking.’

Perhaps – after all, car share schemes such as Liftshare and National CarShare are becoming increasingly popular. Last year saw the first ever Liftshare Week and there are now over 400,000 people signed up to its network.

But, while I can accept that coach travel is a cheaper option, what about the extortionate price of train travel and keeping your own car? If that isn’t enough to make you stick a thumb up, I don’t know what is.

And when it comes to safety, it’s worth considering those who argue that you’re more likely to be run over than assaulted while hitching, making a high-vis jacket something of a necessity.

A culture shift is needed

Regardless of the arguments for and against, the fact remains that every day there are 10 million empty seats on our roads, so we clearly have the capacity to re-embrace hitchhiking.

But do we want to? I’ve picked up hitchers in the past, but only when my boyfriend’s with me, and usually when we’re travelling abroad. Something tells me that it’s such a rare occurrence to see a hitcher in the UK nowadays that we’re too shocked to stop and holler ‘jump in!’

Thumbs-up or thumbs-down to hitchhiking?

Thumbs-down (57%, 90 Votes)

Thumbs-up (43%, 68 Votes)

Total Voters: 158

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It is years since I picked up a hitchhiker. I don’t often see them and I would not stop for anyone on a motorway slip road or other silly place. I am also hesitant to pick up a stranger if I am the only one in the car.

Those I have picked up have been good company and the only bad experience I had was one rather smelly chap in the passenger seat.

There does not seem to be much demand from student hitchhikers, probably because a lot of students have their own car or travel with other students.

Snowdin says:
14 August 2011

I hitchhiked quite a bit when I was in the 6th form at school and the first 2 years of university. It was interesting, I met all sorts, and without 24 hour rolling news it seemed almost risk free. I had one bad experience hitchhiking around Norway after the 66 World Cup. There were virtually no cars outside the cities so progress was almost non-existent and I had to use buses to catch the ferry home. When I did get lifts it was often the same people again and again. It strikes me that picking up hitchhikers is probably more dangerous now, though I have no factual evidence. In those days most people seemed to have 2 parents and understood manners, discipline and boundaries. People with major psychiatric disorders were more likely to be locked away in huge rambling hospitals rather than getting care in the community. I think there were probably less “odd balls” on the roads. I haven’t picked anyone up for some time, partly because I rarely drive distances now. Recently someone tried to flag me down as I turned off a major road onto a rural route. It looked odd, so feeling paranoid I drove on narrowly missing the tree across the road he was trying to warn me about. He was quite correct to shake his head sadly at me. News headlines and political spin these days give us a totally disproportionate feel for risk.

As we are instilled with fear and the focus in society has moved from the collective to the individual. The sense of shared purpose and support for one’s fellow man (or woman) seems to have reduced. Hitch-hiking does not fit well with our new ideology of helping yourself.

Environmentally it makes good sense.