Wyoming bill would legalize hitchhiking

By Jim Stanford on November 26, 2012

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Thumbing it has long been a part of Western life.

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.

Largely a figment of the FBI’s imagination.

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.


Posted under Crime, Environment, Politics, Republican Party, Wyoming Legislature

11 Comments so far

  1. hitchhiker November 26, 2012 7:21 am

    ….about fuc%^&*( time!

  2. Brad November 26, 2012 10:11 am

    OK, it’s a law, but didn’t realize that until now, at least outside of interstate highways. But some laws go generally unenforced if the offense is benign, as this one does 99% of the time. So, I’m amazed Adams was picked on. And, the Captain Bob stop with the noted outcome has the markings of a Kiwanis Follies skit.

  3. Jon November 26, 2012 5:08 pm

    The police don’t seem to care on the pass with skiers, but river users get harassed frequently. It makes sense to drive less cars and hitch hike your shuttle on the river. It is about time to get rid of this ridiculous law. Thank you Leland!!!

  4. ilmeglio November 27, 2012 2:21 pm

    Now this is going through my head:

    Law Enforcement: We don’t care for drifters around here.

    Adams: Don’t Push it; I’ll give you a war you won’t believe!

    Background Music: “It’s a long road/And it’s hard as Hell/What do you do to survive /When they draw First Blood…”

  5. Steve November 28, 2012 7:15 am

    What’s next? Allowing people to sleep in their cars?

  6. sc November 28, 2012 8:10 pm

    Hitchhiking makes sense economically and environmentally; not much different than carpooling really. Even if they change the law it is still a personal choice to hitch or pick up hitch hikers. I am not comfortable doing either but think that people who are comfortable hitching should be allowed to.

    p.s. to Steve – Who hasn’t had to sleep in their car at least once in a lifetime?

  7. Car Camper November 29, 2012 11:53 am

    Sleeping in your car is illegal – or livin’ out of it within town limits. Despite the fact that many in Jackson have done it, including several electeds, our elected oficials continue to make it a crime. Hitchhiking, if done safely, should be legal but Teton Pass skiers often give that concept a black eye and endanger themselves and others.

  8. Brad November 29, 2012 2:51 pm

    I wanna know who these scofflaw electeds are…

  9. Tim Shey December 6, 2012 5:08 pm

    Here is a good blog post that you might like to read sometime: “Few Thumbs Barred From Rides” http://afterhisimage.wordpress.com/2012/03/26/few-thumbs-barred-from-rides/#comment-974

  10. Zane Gilley December 8, 2012 7:25 pm

    What is crazy is that people think that generosity should be legislated at all. If one wants to help another, that is their own business..not of those who live by the forced taxation of others.

    I pick up hitchhikers whenever I get the chance. I’ve never had any trouble, and as anti-hitchhiking legislation is impossible to enforce, I’d pick up hitchhikers even if it were illegal. Neither morality, nor immorality can be legislated.

  11. Tim Shey December 20, 2012 3:40 pm

    Here is another newspaper article:

    “Bill Would Legalize Hitchhiking in State”

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