By Jim Stanford on November 26, 2012
In a move that will warm the hearts of Capt. Bob Morris and backcountry skiers, a state legislator from Teton County is working on a bill to legalize hitchhiking in Wyoming.
Sen. Leland Christensen, R-Alta, will seek to remove from the law a prohibition on soliciting rides, according to the News&Guide. The paper reported:
” ‘It’s a law on the books that doesn’t make sense, especially in these economic times,’ said Christensen, who remembers when his father used to hitch rides home when the family would visit his grandparents.”
Christensen’s view is reinforced by a recent New York Times op-ed, titled “Hitchhiking’s Time Has Come Again,” which argues that the dangers of soliciting rides have been overblown and even fabricated to dissuade people from the once-widespread practice.
The FBI began the campaign to demonize hitching when it became popular with hippies in the 1960s, according to author Ginger Strand. She writes:
Today, America is safer than it has been for decades, and that goes for our roads too. Hitchhiking is likely to be safer as well, not just because of the well-publicized low crime rate, but because of our constant connectivity. Hitchhikers can text the license plate numbers of a car they enter to a friend. Drivers and riders can upload photos of one another to social media sites. Ride-share bulletin boards and Web sites can make the process even more transparent and safe.
Christensen has an ally in Justin Adams, a Kelly resident, outspoken Libertarian and one of the leaders of Save Historic Jackson Hole. Last spring, Adams was getting his tires changed at Big O when he decided to hitch a ride to the bagel shop for a cup of coffee, rather than wait for his truck to be ready.
Law enforcement intervened, stopping Adams and giving him the third degree. An officer asked him whether he owned property in Teton County, as if Adams might be a drifter. A veteran of Special Forces in Vietnam, Adams was livid.
“Having hitchhiked around the world four times, I am a proponent of hitchhiking,” he recently wrote in an email. “Unfortunately, it is illegal in Wyoming, something that should change in the interest of personal freedom if for no other reason.”
Capt. Bob has been advocating for “ride sharing,” as he calls it, for many years. The Teton Village resident and longtime political candidate often could be seen standing on the side of the road with a $2 bill discreetly tucked between his fingers, hoping to land a ride and chip in for gas.
Morris was thrilled upon hearing of Christensen’s bill. These days he mostly takes the START bus, but occasionally he hails a ride from someone who recognizes him. Only once, he said, was he ever contacted by law enforcement while waiting for a lift. The state trooper asked why he was holding out a $2 bill, and when Morris explained the U.S. Treasury could save $183 million each year in printing costs, the patrolman grew bored and left, he said.
Despite being illegal, hitchhiking remains a common practice in Jackson Hole, especially among rafters in the Snake River Canyon, skiers on Teton Pass and backpackers in Grand Teton National Park. Backcountry Ride is a new ride-sharing network started by young residents seeking to reduce fuel consumption and traffic.
Christensen’s bill is likely to win support in the Legislature from a colleague, newly elected Rep. Marti Halverson, R-Etna. Last summer, while doing a rafting shuttle in the canyon, I hitched a ride from her. Imagine my surprise when the first car to pull over, a bright red sedan, turned out to be hers. I lamented not having a camera on me. She had a Sarah Palin bobblehead mounted on her dash!
We agree on virtually nothing, politically. But that’s Wyoming, I thought: No matter our differences, you give your neighbor a ride.