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ask joanne

My husband has been picking up hitchhikers for years and thinks it's ridiculous that I worry about safety. Isn't this a bad idea? I could use some help convincing him to stop. – Janie in Maple Ridge, B.C.

Janis Joplin immortalized the practice of hitching a ride with Me and Bobby McGee, Bono admitted to bumming a lift on a recent visit to Vancouver, and even the editor-in-chief of this newspaper once spent a month thumbing rides and documenting his 9,000-kilometre coast-to-coast trek across our country.

Your hitchhiking fears are well-founded given the fact that, yes, bad things have happened to some people who have accepted and offered transport to strangers.

We don't hear much, though, about the millions of rides that are successfully shared by strangers. They're saving money, fuel and, in some cases, making new friends. Your husband's experience – presumably without incident thus far – is evidence that contrary to the famous Sam Roberts tune, there are some good people left.

Generally speaking, there is no law against hitchhiking on provincial highways in British Columbia. Your hubby may not know, however, that it's illegal to hitchhike in certain areas – particularly around most major highway junctions and bridges, and on municipal roads where bylaws have been enacted. The B.C. provincial fine for thumbing a lift where prohibited is $109. Hitchhiking laws vary between provincial and territorial jurisdictions. In Ontario, the Highway Traffic Act does not permit a person on any public roadway to solicit a ride from the driver of a motor vehicle, apart from a taxi or transit bus. At $50, the Ontario penalty is surprisingly less than half the B.C. fine.

You could let your husband know that you're not alone in your fear of picking up strangers. A veteran police officer friend says he wouldn't recommend hitchhiking to anyone, in any circumstance. Evelyn Hannon, founder and editor of the travel guide, is of a similar mind.

"Forever, I have said do not pick up hitchhikers, and do not hitchhike. Let's say mankind and womankind are 95 per cent pure; I worry about the 5 per cent, especially if you're in another country where you can't seek help as easily as you would here. But that doesn't mean you should be doing it here either. If you're travelling with three or four people and hitchhiking from one town to another I wouldn't be as dead-set against it, although you are putting yourself in the hands of another driver, and you don't know if they're intoxicated. There are so many variables, so many things you don't know. Probably nine times out of 10, it's not a problem, but I can't imagine putting myself in a car with a stranger for 101 reasons," says Hannon, who has also advised Foreign Affairs and International Trade Canada on travel safety.

In some areas, a casual form of carpooling (which closely resembles hitchhiking) is accepted and even promoted by local communities. If you've seen the wooden bench and large carved thumb just outside the airport in the village of Masset on Haida Gwaii, or visited B.C.'s Gulf Islands, you know what I mean. In addition, online sites such as LiftSurfer and HitchPlanet connect those seeking and offering rides, where profiles and user feedback can assist with choosing travel companions.

It's hard to argue with the economics of hitchhiking. A free ride, or cost-sharing, is appealing with the price of fuel these days. The environmental impact and social enjoyment derived from chatting with strangers is also attractive to some. The bottom line, though, is that if you're uneasy with the recognized risks, you shouldn't be forced to participate.

If your husband is comfortable picking up hitchhikers when he's alone, that's one thing – but he shouldn't disregard your fears when you travel together. Sit down, discuss this with him and negotiate a compromise; maybe he'll agree to stop picking up strangers, and perhaps there's something you can quit.