Foreign students oblivious to risks of hitch-hiking

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The Independent Online


The death of Celine Figard has served as a brutal warning of the dangers of hitch-hiking, particularly for young women travelling alone.

The publicity given to such dangers has led to a huge reduction in the number of hitch-hikers in Britain since the Seventies when they were a common sight on every major road.

But the biggest reason for the reduction is probably the increase in car ownership. Although a number of students still hitch to and from their homes at weekends, many more young people now own cars or come from families with more than one vehicle which they can borrow for long journeys.

Many of those still hitching are foreign students, like Celine. Americans and Canadians in particular, enchanted with Britain's reputation as a safe country to travel through, often choose to hitch, both to save money and to meet people.

The day after the discovery of her naked body, Same Ehbel, 19, and Petra Sprey, 20, of Holland, seemed oblivious to the risks. They were hitching near Bath, Somerset, trying to get a lift to Ilfracombe, Devon, where they planed to work on a farm. They said that they did not have enough money to go by train.

Ms Ehbel said: "I did hear about the French girl, but I am not frightened. I probably would not hitch on my own. But I have not had any bad experiences."

Petra added: "It does worry me a bit, but you have to think in a positive way. There are two of us and not everybody is bad, but I think it is really sad what happened to the French girl.

"People have been very nice and helpful. They always take us where we want to go and I have not been frightened. It is more exciting to hitch- hike. You get to meet new people."

Despite the apparent dangers, hitching still has a romantic following. The freedom first popularised by Jack Kerouac's book On The Road in the late Forties,encourages thousands to shun trains and buses.

It first gained a following during the Thirties depression in the United States. Out-of-work hoboes travelled across the country jumping trains and hitching rides from trucks and the few private cars. Even now, most budget guidebooks give hints on the best ways to hitch and the Hitch- hikers Guide to Europe is one of the books most stolen from youth hostels.

On the Continent it is for many a normal way of travelling than in Britain, even for women alone. In the south, especially, women often hitch.

In many Third-World countries seeking lifts from strangers is a way of life both because of the low level of car ownership and because such hospitality is deeply ingrained in the culture.