A Dearth of Research: Does anyone really know anything about hitch-hiking?

Author: Bernd Wechner
Published on: March 1, 2002

The simple, unplanned and spontaneous act of sharing transport has been with us as long there has been transport to share. Still, with all of the electronic resources of the twenty first century at hand, the first academic effort to describe hitch-hiking that I have identified was published in 1958. Even then, its author, Schlebecker observed with some bemusement:

Schlebecker understated the matter some. It is more than strange, it is bewildering. Post-Schlebecker the story that unfolds is no less perplexing.

Academia would flatter the phenomenon with only three traceable mentions in the 13 years to follow – a short mention in Brilliant’s excellent 1963 doctoral dissertation on automobiles, DiMaggio’s significant 1971 honours dissertation on sociology and White’s mediocre 1971 masters dissertation on culture. None of these three researchers displayed any awareness of Schlebecker’s writing, in spite of its salient relevance to their work. Granted, they weren’t equipped with the power of electronic search engines, but the fading of Schlebecker’s ground breaking work was lasting, not a single academic work citing it has been published since!

DiMaggio, unaware of Schlebecker’s voice, would second it soundly all the same:

The 1970’s would however, emerge as a golden era of sorts, in hitch-hiking research. A modest flurry of papers and dissertations appeared. But the research was still very meagre and there was very little cross awareness, between researchers. Hitch-hiking was variously studied as a significant social phenomenon itself or a useful context for specific sociological or psychological research. Unaware of Schlebecker’s empathy, or as often as not one another’s, these researchers would, one after the other, continue to echo the same concern.

Referring to a scant few anecdotal articles that had appeared over the decades, Crassweller wrote:

In the same year, Tobin and Sexton noted:

Like, Schlebecker, they were understating matters considerably. With the tools at hand today, and their own bibliography, it is abundantly evident that they meant “no research has been done to produce realistic figures linking crime and hitchhiking”.

It was not until 1974 that the California Highway Patrol would commission a study in that direction (Pudinski, 1974). This remains the only study on the matter in the United States to this day and one of only two such studies ever commissioned, anywhere![1]

Rinvolucri in 1974 tables an excellent history of British hitch-hiking, and was unable to find any earlier studies. Schlebecker and Rinvolucri remain the definitive voices on the history of hitch-hiking to this day!

In 1975 the Connecticut Committee to Study the Solicitation of Rides on Motor Vehicles reported wryly:

While Dallmeyer, in the first serious effort to legitimise the practice found:

A modicum of research would continue to appear in the 1970s, waning in the 1980s to a complete void of research in the 1990s.

When Grundstad was asked by the State of Oregon to report on the effect of hitch-hiking legislation in 1982, he had little of consequence to report:

By 1985 Franzoi was still noting the lack of objective research:

The entire extant realm of academic research into hitch-hiking would draw to a close ironically with the single most robust analysis of hitch-hiking safety ever to appear – a 1989 study commissioned by the Federal Bureau of Criminology in Germany. Even they were forced to note:

Fiedler et. al. who’s topic of study was specifically the criminal risks relating to hitch-hiking, may have been thinking of the California Highway Patrol’s 1974 study on the matter when they wrote “there exist hardly any empirical investigations on this topic”. But their lack of any mention of that study, in spite of a solid coverage of the American hitch-hiking literature of the 1970s, suggests they were subscribing to the traditional moderation of tone. We should read instead, “to our knowledge there exist no empirical investigations on this topic.

Since 1989, that situation has not changed!

Stop Press

Between writing this article, in reality the introduction to the first draft of my proposal to study hitch-hiking towards a PhD, a new piece of research has appeared! In the current issue of Sociological Research online, Graeme Chesters and David Smith note (again):

The timing is perfect, and I smell a small revival in the air ... in any case, I and Chesters and Smith would appear to be promoting one!

Still, their response from the academic world was less than cool:

and while I've thus far met with some support, I'm not yet convinced my proposals will win recognition, never mind funding!


[1] Within the means of modern research tools and techniques to uncover.

[2] Original text: Trotz der hohen Publizität, die das Trampen zeitweise erlangt, sei es anlässlich schwerer Straftaten oder durch Warnungen zu Beginn der Sommerreisezeit, gibt es bislang kaum empirische Untersuchungen zu diesem Thema.


Connecticut Legislative Committee, 1975; Report of the “Committee To Study The Solicitation Of Rides On Motor Vehicles”, Connecticut.

Chesters, Graeme and Smith, David, 2001; “The Neglected Art of Hitch-hiking: Risk, Trust and Sustainability”, Sociological Research Online 6/3.

Crassweller Peter, et. al., 1972; “An Experimental Investigation of Hitchhiking”, The Journal of Psychology 82, pp. 43-47.

DiMaggio, Paul, 1971; Sociability and the Hitchhiker; unpublished honours thesis, Swarthmore College, Pennsylvania.

Dallmeyer, Kenneth D. et.al., 1975; Hitchhiking: a viable addition to a multimodal transportation system? , Center for Urban Transportation Studies, University of Colorado at Denver.

Fiedler, Joachim, et. al., 1989; Anhalterwesen und Anhaltergefahren: unter besonderer Berücksichtigung des “Kurztrampens”, BKA-Forschungsreihe Sonderband, Bundeskriminalamt Wiesbaden.

Franzoi, Stephen, 1985; “Personality Characteristics of the Cross Country Hitchhiker”, Adolescence 20, pp. 655-668.

Grundstad, Robert, 1982; Anti-hitchhiking Laws, Legislative Research, Legislative Administration Committee, Salem Oregon.

Pudinski, W., 1974; California Crimes and Accidents Associated with Hitch-hiking, California Highway Patrol, Operational Analysis Section.

Rinvolucri, Mario, 1974; Hitch-hiking, self published, London.

Schlebecker, John T., 1958; “An Informal History of Hitchhiking”, The Historian 20, pp.305-327

Tobin, Nona and Sexton, Sam, 1972; Attitudes toward and the effects of physical variables on hitchhiking, unpublished masters thesis, California State University, San Jose.