Thumbs-down from drivers means end of the road for hitching
Charlie Cooper is Health Correspondent for The Independent, i, and The Independent on Sunday, writing on the NHS, medical advances, and international health. Since joining the papers as an editorial assistant, he has been nominated for young journalist of the year at both the Press Awards and the British Journalism Awards.
Monday 08 August 2011
There was a time when a wind-battered man optimistically jutting his thumb into the air was a common sight on Britain's roadsides. Nor was it unusual for drivers to actually stop and offer a lift.
But the road has become a lonely place for the once-ubiquitous hitch-hiker. As many as 91 per cent of drivers now say they would be unlikely to stop and offer a free ride to a stranger – up from 75 per cent just two years ago, according to a new AA survey.
The rise of cut-price coach travel and expanding car ownership have been blamed for putting the final nail in the coffin of an idyll of free-and-easy wayfaring that has been in decline for many years.
Only one in every hundred drivers say they would be very likely to stop and offer a free lift, and the same small fraction (mostly the same people, in fact) have hitch-hiked themselves in the past year, according to the poll of more than 16,000 people.
Edmund King, the president of the AA, said hitch-hiking had "reached the end of the road". "As teenagers my brothers and I would hitch-hike around the UK and Europe," he said. "But one rarely sees a hitch-hiker today. The older generation are more likely to have thumbed a lift and hence are more likely to pick up hitch-hikers."
The youth of today, however, are more likely to be wilfully ignoring hitch-hikers than taking to the roadside themselves. Ninety-three per cent of 18-24-year-olds have never tried it, whereas more than half of 48-65 year-olds say they have. For men and women of a certain age, hitch-hiking was more than just a cheap way to get about; it was a lifestyle choice. The poor, wayfaring stranger was an iconic figure of 60s and 70s counter-culture, informed and inspired by Jack Kerouac's On The Road and channelled through the lyrics of Joan Baez, Simon & Garfunkel and Bob Dylan to become a widely-used mode of transport for a generation of British students.
A boom in university entry, combined with a pre-motorway transport infrastructure and high car prices, fuelled a subculture of hitchers. In 1979, The Independent's current senior travel editor, Simon Calder, wrote The Hitch-hiker's Manual: Britain, in which he estimated that it would take a single woman only 15 minutes to hitch a ride, and even a group of three men could reasonably expect to be picked up within an hour and a half.
However, with the spread of motorways, where pedestrians are banned, better public transport and the expansion of car ownership, the hitch-hiker soon became an endangered species. The practical benefits of giving a ride – a navigator and some company – have been superseded by satnav and vastly improved in-car entertainment.
The AA's survey did contain one ray of hope for the would-be hitcher. A so-called "Celtic friendly" attitude was identified, with drivers in Wales, Scotland, Northern Ireland and the West Country much more likely to pick up a hitch-hiker than in other parts of the country.
The Independent travel offers: Discover a world of inspiring destinations
- 1 What marriage would look like if we actually followed the Bible
- 2 President Obama leaves touching comment on Humans of New York photo from Iran
- 3 If these extraordinarily powerful images of a dead Syrian child washed up on a beach don't change Europe's attitude to refugees, what will?
- 4 The Chinese city where men have 'three girlfriends because there are so many women'
- 5 'Heartbreaking' Syria orphan photo wasn't taken in Syria and not of orphan
Britain to take more refugees as Cameron bows to pressure after more than 250,000 back our campaign
Senior British politicians tell David Cameron: When dead children are being washed up on beaches – it's time to act
Jeremy Corbyn calls Osama bin Laden's killing a 'tragedy' - but was it taken out of context?
If these extraordinarily powerful images of a dead Syrian child washed up on a beach don't change Europe's attitude to refugees, what will?
If you're not already angry about the refugee crisis, here's a history lesson to remind you why you really should be
Make your voice heard: Sign The Independent's petition to welcome refugees
£22000 - £32000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: The fastest growing fitness cha...
£7500 - £10000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: The fastest growing fitness chai...
COMPETITIVE: Guru Careers: A Marketing / Digital Marketing Executive (CRM, Eve...
£8 per hour: Recruitment Genius: The role is likely to be 4on 4 off, days and ...