[Cdt-l] Hitchhiking in Idaho -- followup

Jonathan Ley jonathan at phlumf.com
Wed Jul 27 21:17:53 CDT 2011

 From what I can tell, laws banning hitchhiking are usually justified as 
a matter of safety. It can be distracting to see someone along the side 
of the road who is trying to interact with speeding cars. And it could 
be dangerous to the hitchhiker. But, in that case, a whole host of 
similar activities should be illegal – hailing a cab, advertising a 
charity car wash, or even walking along a road. There are safe ways to 
hitchhike. Standing on a sidewalk with a sign is perfectly safe, but in 
Idaho, it's illegal.

I think the real reason hitchhiking is banned is that people in 
positions of power look down on the activity as uncivil and usually 
undertaken by less desirable people – poor & homeless people… the kind 
of people they think are more likely to be involved in criminal 
activities... the kind of people they’d rather not see in their 
community... and the kind of people who have no real power or voice.

To me, this is akin to criminalizing poverty. That’s really why I find 
it so offensive. There are plenty of people who can’t afford to travel 
any other way. And for people like CDT hikers, it's simply the most 
practical way to get around and actually complete a thru-hike.

In many ways, hitchhiking is similar to panhandling. It’s an act of a 
person asking another person to volunteer assistance & something of 
value. Our Federal courts have ruled repeatedly that panhandling in and 
of itself is a form of free speech protected under the First Amendment 
of the U.S. Constitution. I couldn’t find an example case where an 
outright panhandling ban was appealed all the way to the US supreme 
court. But there are a number of rulings in lower courts which were not 
appealed, or not heard by a higher court. In any event – the laws were 
stuck down by the courts. Ongoing arguments now pertain to bans of 
“aggressive panhandling”… (likewise, aggressive hitchhiking would be out 
of bounds), or panhandling in certain locations.

Our government should be able to regulate hitchhiking, perhaps limiting 
the type of sign one could use, how far from the edge of the road one 
needs to be, or even on which roads one could hitchhike… provided those 
regulations aren’t overbearing to the point of an effective ban.

If I’m standing in a public space, I ought to be able to converse with 
my fellow citizens in any way I please, provided it doesn’t amount to 
harassment. I ought to be able to express my political views. I ought to 
be able to ask people for money. I ought to be able to tell people they 
need to read a certain book. And I ought to be able to hold a sign that 
indicates I need a ride somewhere.


On 7/27/2011 2:47 PM, Will Hiltz wrote:
> Quite right mark, and we need not look even beyond the trail community 
> to see an example of how the state might justify such a restriction in 
> the name of safety-- I can think of at least three hikers killed on 
> the roadside within the past 5 years
> Easy
> On Wed, Jul 27, 2011 at 2:32 PM, Mark Liechty <mlaccs at mlaccs.com 
> <mailto:mlaccs at mlaccs.com>> wrote:
>     On Jul 27, 2011, at 2:09 PM, Jonathan Ley wrote:
>>     Rights granted under the 1^st  amendment are not absolute (e.g.
>>     you can’t yell fire in a crowded theater… unless it’s on fire).
>>     Basically, you can’t infringe on the rights of others while
>>     exercising your rights. Standing on the side of a public road
>>     with your thumb out & maybe holding a sign while safely away from
>>     traffic doesn’t infringe on anyone’s rights to do anything. Some
>>     may argue that allowing such behavior can affect the environment
>>     of a community; that allowing unrestricted hitchhiking would
>>     degrade property values for example. That kind of argument might
>>     have merit in upholding zoning laws, but I don’t think it applies
>>     to impermanent actions like those of a hitchhiker.
>     ##############
>     My strong bet is that somewhere this has been challenged and
>     upheld in the courts.   The government (people of the State) would
>     argue that the hitchhikers are a distraction to drivers on the
>     freeway and therefore putting innocents in harms way that could =
>     death.
>     Most hikers move a bit slower than the cars on the freeway and the
>     cars need to have somewhere to go if there is an emergency in
>     front of them.  Having people walking on the side of the road
>     prevents this.  Plus while most hikers are attracted to "shiny
>     things" those objects could become a distraction to drivers and,
>     again, people die.
>     I am pretty sure that in CA you can hitchhike on the onramps but
>     not on the freeway itself.   From time to time I pickup someone
>     just hoping to build karma.  NEVER EVER would i consider pulling
>     off the highway itself to do that.  I have seen what happens when
>     the Highway Patrol ends up picking up people with a stick and a spoon.
>     Mark "Blankie" Liechty
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