Wednesday, November 15, 2006

Hitchhiking Never a Safe Option

[NOTE: Post reprinted from 2005]

There was a story released from the Associated Press and seen at about a group called COMMUNI-GO, which seeks to begin a hitchhiking program in the Pioneer Valley for those looking for affordable travel in the region. They say that it is a response to oil crisis concerns, and its users may even find it a "pretty fun" way to get around.

Here's some of the details from the story:
"Participants would be issued placards identifying them as Communi-GO members. Instead of holding out a thumb, a hitchhiker would wave the sign. A driver belonging to Communi-GO would pull over, displaying a placard as proof of membership.

To enroll, people would have to submit their names and addresses and fill out a form stating they have no history of violent crimes. People who want to be drivers would have to give proof of insurance, registration and a valid license.

Riders and drivers would be on the honor system when it comes to reporting their criminal histories. But Northampton Police Chief Russell Sienkiewicz said having everyone's name in a database will at least give police some basic information in case of foul play.

From the very first time I read about this kind of program (I read about the California program a few weeks back), I had very serious misgivings about it.

First of all, the program's safety - at least here in Mass. - relies on an "honor system". This is a concept that works fairly well on school campuses and occasionally on golf courses, but should never be relied upon for personal safety in the general community. Bad people are natural liars, and placards and signs can be forged or stolen.

Secondly, there are no routes or schedules in this program. Therefor, if you do go missing, it is anybody's guess (or a dumb-luck sighting) as to where or when you actually disappeared. Carpools have schedules. Buses have routes and schedules. These are traceable alternatives that police can use as reference points in any search.

I am very disturbed by the Northampton Police Chief Russel Sienkienwics' "ho-hum" attitude about this program. Hitchhiking has never been, and still is not, a safe way to travel. Why would enyone purposely place their own well-being in jeopardy simply to save a few bucks in gas each week? How much is your own life worth? Ten dollars? Fifteen? Let me ask you this: If you had a 8 or 10-year-old daughter or son, would you place them in a hitchhiking system like this? Of course not! Adult individuals - especially women - are also vulnerable to being abducted by strangers. Yes, it CAN happen to you. Do not be lulled by the thought of the local police having your host's name and "address". Once you are in his car, none of that will matter. The region's missing persons' rolls are filled with the names of folks who were confident that abductions only happened to "other people".

I strongly urge anyone contemplating entering into this program to please reconsider. I have been reading about and writing about missing persons and unsolved homicides for over two years now, and the last thing I want to do is open up the morning newspaper and read about some poor soul having gone missing while using this program.

Concerned about gas prices? Then carpool if you wish, or take a bus, bike-ride, or walk if you must. But please do not put your own personal safety at risk just for the "thrill" of hitching a ride.

It may very well be the last decision you ever make.


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