Hitchhiking in the U.S.

You stick your thumb up and point to the road in the direction you seek to go. Hitchhiking is harmless, right? The simple act of asking for a lift is illegal under some circumstances, notably in the United States. Hitchhiking around Europe is quite a bit more laid back. Hitchhiking to free-spirited festivals in the U.S. is far more commonly practiced and accepted than hitchhiking to and from work. So are the laws in place as cultural enforcement? Are they there to preserve the comfort of some more reserved peoples, or do the laws stand to guard us all against any potential foul play or vehicular manslaughter?
The only nationwide law that prohibits hitchhiking is 36 CFR 4.31, which states that hitchhiking is illegal on any property under the jurisdiction of the Department of the Interior: National Park Service. Such properties include national parks, national recreation areas and national scenic byways. Regardless, these laws are often overlooked to allow hitchhiking at the discretion of each facility. Beyond that national guideline, each state has its own rules regarding the solicitation of rides. In most states it’s illegal to hitch from interstates themselves, but individuals can typically stand at on-ramps in front of the “no pedestrians” signs. I can’t imagine it’s all that likely someone will bring their car to a complete stop right before speeding onto a highway, but to each their own.
In metropolitan areas such as our own Seattle-and-beyond, ride sharing systems are becoming more and more popular. As such, the more heavily regulated taxi companies are getting agitated, for they have to pay more taxes and fees, and go through various checks and balances in order to stay in business. Thus far, simple ride sharing services have avoided such nuisances. So it seems ride sharing, and other forms of almost-but-not-quite-public carpool systems are on the rise, but what caused the steady decline in the original form or hitching a ride?
In Douglas Adams’ well known “Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy,” the reader follows the adventures of Arthur Dent as he travels through space to meet Zaphod Beeblebrox, the two-headed Galactic President and meets many races and strains of humanoids on the way.    It’s true that hitchhiking on our home planet Earth has never been as flamboyant as Arthur’s travels, but there was a time when hitchhiking was a commonplace form of transportation and source of inspiration for the wandering soul. The freedom of being on the road was just that: free.      Baby boomers can share stories of being picked up, driven around and dropped off wherever they please, safe and sound, likely with a freshly composed poem in hand. But nowadays, both potential ride-givers and ride-takers are afraid of being hunted in some way. The idea of being in close proximity with a stranger is terrifying, I guess, when that proximity is enclosed by metal and glass and a roaring engine.
Society in general has given hitchhiking a thumbs down. And as highways and interstates became more prevalent and reliable, hitchhiking became less and less accessible. The reasons the practice of hitchhiking has ebbed are vast and complicated, but worth thinking about.   Many of us drive alone to work each day, complain about traffic and the price of gas. Sure, hitchhiking on a daily basis is not a great idea. But for those days when you want to travel to the coast, whether you want a ride or are willing to give a ride, hitchhiking is not a practice that one should be ashamed of.