#5: 1 in 10 cars stop to pick up hitch-hikers…

… That’s better than waiting for a bus!

There don’t seem to be so many studies done on hitch-hiking these days, but comparing studies from 1975 and 2009 it seems that (among female hitch-hikers in France at least) a car is as likely to stop now as 45 years ago: about 10% of the time.

The 1975 paper found that figure dropped to about 7% for men (if they make eye contact). It seems that male drivers will stop twice as often as female and that blonde women who accentuate their bust size are most likely of all to be given a lift – a C cup can boost a woman’s chances with male drivers to almost 25%.

Before you start thinking I’m a bit superficial, I should explain that hitch-hiking studies tend to focus on sexual markers visible from distance, things like gender, hair length and colour and bust size – the fascination is human not mine in particular!

Apart from ditching male companions and travelling with a woman wearing a push-up bra, a man can increase his chances by wearing smart clothes and making eye contact with passing drivers. Researchers concluded that the effect of a beard (this was the 1970s) was ambiguous.

As part of my experiment with No Aeroplanes, I hitch-hiked over 1,000 miles from London to Ben Nevis in Scotland. I didn’t make a rigorous study, but travelling with a female friend (brunette, cup size unknown), making eye contact and holding out our thumbs with a simple sign seemed to work. We didn’t wait longer than about twenty minutes for a lift, once we’d found somewhere safe for people to stop. Even more successful was to approach drivers in person at service stations – it never failed.

It definitely beat the bus. I mean that literally: on our first day, we got from London to Edinburgh quicker (and cheaper) than the National Express. But this has very little to do with saving money: the real value of the hitch was in the generous people we met.

And yet hitch-hiking is falsely perceived as difficult and dangerous.

Sociologists Graeme Chesters and David Smith identify various factors in the decline of hitch-hiking, but one is the rise of cheap air travel:

“holiday destinations which were barely imaginable in the late 1960s have now become routine (in Latin America, south east Asia, and Australasia). Rather than hitch-hiking from London to Athens young people can fly to Bangkok or Lima – or indeed to Athens.”

But hitch-hiking isn’t a service you can buy and sell, it’s a collaboration of intimacy, trust and gratitude. Or as European hitching collective Club of Roam put it:

“an opportunity to promote such funktastic values as friendship, transcultural exchange, social engagement and obviously the sweet, sweet art of hitch-hiking”.

I think it’s exciting to remember that, even in this age of blanket consumerism, there’s another way of doing things based on sharing and unexpected gifts from strangers. Hitch-hiking shouldn’t be feared, but celebrated as an artefact of the best of human virtue.

Further Reading

Morgan, C.J., Lockard, J.S., Fahrenbruch, C.E. et al. ‘Hitchhiking: Social signals at a distance’. Bull. Psychon. Soc. (1975) 5: 459. doi:10.3758/BF03333299

Guéguen, Nicolas, and Lubomir Lamy. ‘Hitchhiking Women’s Hair Color’. Perceptual and Motor Skills 109, no. 3 (December 2009): 941–48. doi:10.2466/pms.109.3.941-948.

Margaret M Clifford and Paul Cleary ‘The Odds in Hitchhiking’ http://raspunicum.de/misc/Clifford_Odds_Hitchhike.pdf

Guéguen, Nicolas. ‘Bust Size and Hitchhiking: A Field Study’. Perceptual and Motor Skills 105, no. 3 suppl (2007): 1294–1298.

Graeme Chesters and David Smith (2001) ‘The Neglected Art of Hitch- hiking: Risk, Trust and Sustainability’ Sociological Research Online, vol. 6, no. 3, http://www.socresonline.org.uk/6/3/chesters.html

Club of Roam-Autostop! e.V. ‘What’s Tramprennen?’ Tramprennen. http://tramprennen.org/about-us/whats-that/.

This post is an extract from the book You Are What You Don’t by David Charles. Please share, please credit!

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David Charles is co-writer of BBC radio sitcom Foiled. He also writes for The Bike Project, Thighs of Steel, and the Elevate Festival. He blogs at davidcharles.info.

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