Experiments in Hitch-hiking: What works best?

By: Bernd Wechner
© January 1, 2003

Experiments in Hitch-hiking: What works best?

Experiments in Hitch-hiking: What works best?

Author: Bernd Wechner
Published on: January 1, 2003

Last year I marveled openly at the lack of research into hitch-hiking, given its ubiquity and how passionately opinionated people seem to be on the subject - it's either the greatest thing out or a certain suicide. Often people wonder just how well it works. How many people actually pull over? Or, better said, what portion of passing cars pulls over?

There was a period, from 1966 to 1975 where the diligent student will find a handful of studies that either set out to answer just this question or used hitch-hikers to study another (related) question. Not many, eight in all, made their way into my hands over recent years, three of which remained unpublished (and hence somewhat hard to find). I'd be pleased to learn of more, but for the moment this looks like all we have. Extracts from a golden age so to speak, when a handful of people took the subject seriously enough to conduct and report on some experiments using hitch-hikers as bait and drivers as quarry.

They are:

Baugher, Bob, 1974; unpublished personal letter.

Bryan, James H., 1966; Helping and Hitchhiking, unpublished manuscript, Princeton, New Jersey.

Clifford, Margaret M. and Cleary Paul, 1971; The Odds on Hitchhiking, unpublished manuscript, Wisconsin

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

Morgan, Charles J. et. al., 1975; “Hitch-hiking – Social Signals at a Distance”, Bulletin of the Psychonomic Society 5, pp. 459-461.

Pomazal, Richard J. and Clore, Gerald L., 1973; “Helping on the Highway: the effects of dependency and sex”, Journal of Applied Social Psychology 3, pp. 150-164.

Snyder, Mark et. al., 1974; “Staring and Compliance: a field experiment in hitchhiking”, Journal of Applied Psychology 4, pp. 165-170.

Tobin, Nona and Sexton, Sam, 1972; Attitudes toward and the effects of physical variables on hitchhiking, unpublished masters thesis, California State University, San Jose.

I'd like to summarise just what these researchers did and their results. The studies are diverse, were executed in diverse locations and yielded a wide range of results. All but one researcher recorded the proportion of cars which pulled over (counting ride offers and passing cars). The one exception, Bryan, didn't count passing cars, but watched the clock (measured wait times). Tables 1-4 below summarises the results and practices succinctly.

Table 1: Summary of Results
Experimenters When Where Min Max Min condition Max condition
Morgan et al. 1975 Seattle, WA? 2.1% 11.1% eye contact/beard/begging eye contact/breasts
Clifford & Cleary 1971 Madison, WI? 3.1% 6.6% M&M/sports or grubbies F&F/sports
Bryan 1966 Los Angeles, CA 0/hour 9/hour Low dependency High dependency
Tobin & Sexton 1972 San Jose, CA? 0.9% 7.6% Male/town/business/day Female/highway/business/night
Crassweller et al. 1972 Dallas, TX & Stamford, CT 1.2% 16.1% Stamford/upper/well dressed Dallas/lower/hip
Baugher 1974 Fresno, CA 1.4% 2.2% Beard No beard
Snyder et al. 1974 Palo Alto, CA 2.0% 9.5% Male & female/no stare Female/stare
Pomazal & Clore 1973 Champaign-Urbana, IL 6.0% 36.0% Male/no car Female/car trunk down, no tire
Pomazal & Clore 1973 Champaign-Urbana, IL 4.0% 26.0% Male/high dependency Female/low dependency
Morgan et al. prelim. 1975 Seattle, WA? 3.7% 16.2% Male/no eye contact Female/eye contact


? implies the location of the experiments is inferred not documented.

Morgan et al. conducted a preliminary study for which they reported results but failed to document the experimental conditions.

Table 2.

Min is the minimum success rate of hitch-hikers among the trials conducted and Max is the maximum success rate.

Min and Max condition summarise the conditions of the trial which recorded the minimum and maximum success rates. For interpretation consult Table 3 below.

Table 2: Summary of Trials
Experimenters Year Variables Conditions Trials
Trials Duration
Morgan et al. 1975 4 12 6 72 15 minutes 18 hours
Clifford & Cleary 1971 3 8 2 16 1 hour 16 hours
Bryan 1966 1 2 4 8 1 hour 8 hours
Tobin & Sexton 1972 4 16 20 320 1 ride offer 320 ride offers
Crassweller et al. 1972 3 12 8 96 1 ride offer 96 ride offers
Baugher 1974 1 2 15 30 1 ride offer 30 ride offers
Snyder et al. 1974 3 24 1 24 50 passing vehicles 1200 passing vehicles
Pomazal & Clore 1973 2 6 6 36 100/6 passing vehicles 600 passing vehicles
Pomazal & Clore 1973 2 4 4 16 25 passing vehicles 400 passing vehicles


Variables is the number variables which were studied.

Conditions is how many unique combinations of those variables were trialed.

Trials per condition is how many trials were conducted for each condition.

Trials is the total number of trials.

Duration of trial is how long each trial lasted.

Total is how long the whole experiment lasted (in hours, ride offers or passing vehicles).

Table 3: Summary of Variables
Experimenters Variables
Morgan et al. 4 Sex
Eye contact
Secondary sex characteristic
(beard or breasts/not)
Clifford & Cleary 3 Sex & Company
(M, M&F, M&M, F&F)
Bryan 1 Dependency
(bandaged knee & cane/healthy)
Tobin & Sexton 4 Sex
Crassweller et al. 3 Dress
(hip/well dressed)
Socio-economic section of city
(lower, middle, upper)
Baugher 1 Beard
Snyder et al. 3 Sex & Company
(M, F, M&F)
Eye contact
(freeway on-ramp, freeway off-ramp, 6-lane 30 mph, 2-lane 15 mph)
Pomazal & Clore 2 Sex
(beside car with trunk up and spare tire/beside car with trunk down and no spare tire/no car)
Pomazal & Clore 2 Sex
(knee brace & arm sling/healthy)


Table 4: Summary of Observations Recorded
Experimenters Observations Recorded
Morgan et al. 8 Count of passing vehicles Count of ride offers Number of passengers Sex of driver Apparent age of driver Apparent age of passengers Type of vehicle Apparent age of vehicle
Clifford & Cleary 2 Count of passing vehicles
(except busses and taxis)
Count of ride offers
Bryan 1 Count of ride offers
Tobin & Sexton 2 Count of passing vehicles
Time to ride offer
Crassweller et al. 5 Count of passing vehicles
(excluding taxis and police)
Age of driver Number of passengers Reason for offer Six questions on liberalism
Baugher 7 Count of passing vehicles Drivers hair
Number of passengers Sex of driver Apparent age of driver Race of driver Type of vehicle
Snyder et al. 3 Count of passing vehicles
(which could easily stop)
Count of ride offers Apparent age of driver
Pomazal & Clore 7 Count of passing vehicles Count of ride offers Number of passengers Sex of driver Apparent age of driver Race of driver Brief description of vehicle
Pomazal & Clore 7 Count of passing vehicles Count of ride offers Number of passengers Sex of driver Apparent age of driver Race of driver Brief description of vehicle


In summary then, of 8 studies we can trace, conducted between 1966 and 1975 (no-one since seems to have displayed any interested in the matter), the hitch-hiking success rate was recorded between 0.9% and 36% (that's between roughly 1 car in 100 and 1 in 3). The highest rate of success (36%) recorded was for a lone female hitching a ride beside car parked by the side of the highway near Champaign-Urbana, Illinois. The lowest rate (0.9%) of success recorded was for a lone male in business clothing hitching a ride from downtown San Jose, California during the day.

Experimenters examined between 1 and 4 of the following variables:

  • sex
  • company
  • dress
  • eye contact
  • location
  • gesture
  • time of day, dependency
  • secondary sexual characteristics
  • socio-economic environment

They examined between 2 and 24 distinct conditions (combinations of these variables) and conducted between 1 and 20 trials per condition for a total of between 8 and 320 trials.

Three types of trial were conducted with durations ranging as follows:

  • For a fixed duration, 15 minutes to 1 hour per trial for a total of 8 to 18 hours.
  • For a fixed count of passing vehicles, 16 to 50 passing vehicles for a total of 400 to 1200 vehicles.
  • Until the first ride offer, for a total of 30 to 320 ride offers.

They recorded between 1 and 8 of the following observations:

  • Count of passing vehicles
  • Count of ride offers
  • Time to ride offer
  • Number of passengers
  • Sex of driver
  • Age of driver
  • Race of driver
  • Hair style of driver
  • Apparent age of passengers
  • Type of vehicle
  • Age of vehicle
  • Reason for ride offer
  • Drivers views (on liberalism)

These studies can be made available to anyone upon request. Just contact me with an expression of interest. They form an excellent basis for modern day comparative studies - do we still see between 1/100 and 1/3 cars pulling over for downtown businessmen and women in distress? And if not, how do 21st century hitch-hiking success rates compare?

If you're feeling generous and want to express gratitude for the work presented here, by all means donate some money.