Secure Hitch-hiking (in a new age)

By: Bernd Wechner
© January 1, 1999

Secure Hitch-hiking (in a new age)

Secure Hitch-hiking (in a new age)

Author: Bernd Wechner
Published on: January 1, 1999

Well it's January again, and over bygone years January's article here has focused on new ideas. An on-line hitch-hiker's guide book, written by hitchers for hitchers, a world-wide hitch-hikers association bringing together a like minded people, a hospitality club for hitchers ... all of which have been set into motion since, if only slightly, by others (generally independent of my raising them here, I should add).

This year I'll put to paper (or screen) an idea that's cropped up in numerous conversations I've had, aired by others, aired by me, but rarely without some dispute, or skepticism. I'm playing on the idea of reducing danger somehow, using technology ... let's have a look at how.

Hitch-hiking's generally perceived as a dangerous activity. The perception's generally biased by media scare mongering, but all the same there are dangers. Notwithstanding the fact that traffic accidents pose the greatest risk a hitch-hiker faces, the greatest risk that's actually feared is crime.

Can the risk of crime be reduced? Well of course, don't hitch-hike! That's the most common public relations strategy that police and governments put into place anyhow, but hardly a novel suggestion. What about those who continue to hitch-hike in spite of all the media scare campaigns, laws and regulations that would like to dissuade them?

One idea is to organise the whole thing. Ride share agencies came onto the scene in no small part as an expression of that idea. That is, their raison d'être is essentially to provide a safer way of matching drivers with passengers than road-side soliciting. Ride sharing mind you, is not hitch-hiking, it's just close.

Some governments have experimented with a less formal compromise. Hitching coupons were issued in Poland for a long time, and ID cards were played with in France and the United States for a while ... the list of organising strategies is material for another article some time though.

The common theme is often the idea that some form of organisation, any at all really, will help to make the would-be criminal more identifiable, thus dissuading some of these would-be criminals from ever becoming real criminals -- for fear of the social repercussions (call that gaol or jail if you like). Anonymity, it's said, will encourage the dark side of some people to emerge and find expression.

Well, I'm not convinced that even perfect traceability (which ride sharing agencies endeavour to provide) is going to wipe out hitching crimes altogether. There'll always be a class of criminal that is either self-destructive enough not to care, or wily and confident enough to try and dodge the traces.

Still, traceability may well serve to reduce the number of crimes, and that can't be a bad thing. Enter the greatest thing to have emerged since the telephone, the mobile phone. Technology to the rescue?

I remember talking to Ian, who'd just picked my up, burning down the Stuart highway from Coober Pedy towards Adelaide one time. We got to talking, as often happens, about how times had changed, how dangerous hitching had become. He was a good Christian and described the self-fulfilling spiral of mistrust that we'd crept into as a society, and how dangerous the image of hitching was.

"Why not use phones", I suggested, "to promote safety". You know, I could carry a mobile phone, and when a car stops to pick me up I just type a single button and then the number on registration plates of the car and it's all registered in some databank. Time, place, my ID, the car's ID ... all with an open eye and a few keys (13 keys tops in Australia with today's mobiles). Could do wonders to promote visibility and hence security!

Of course it'd work, it provides a workable safety net, and as mobile prices drop and coverage rises, even hitchers are beginning to afford them. Why, I've even hitched with a mobile on me. But Ian wouldn't hear of it. No, he wouldn't even pull over for someone with that attitude. He was adamant, even angry at the suggestion of it. Hitching to him was a thing of trust, and if you had to lean on this kind of nonsense you were eroding what little beauty there was left in hitching. You were joining the rat race.

Then again Ian was convinced he could prove the chicken came before the egg.

Roland Mösl, an environmental activist, founder of PEGE, the Planetary Engineering Group Earth, is of a different mind. He's gone so far as to couple the idea with GPS, the Global Positioning System, to pinpoint exactly where people are (a mobile phone knows only roughly where you are, specifically which antenna you're closest to and roughly how far you are from it).

He calls his invention CAHH or Computer Aided Hitch-Hiking. The idea isn't just to increase security and keep a track on who's picking up who, but to organise the pick-ups in the first place. He wants to equip cars with GPS too, and from a central registry match rides with hitchers.

That is, you're standing somewhere, and want to go somewhere else, you key the stuff into your hand-held CAHH device and Mösl's CAHH central will find for you a car that's kind of going the same way and tell the driver on the car's CAHH device where you are and what you need. It involves equipping drivers and hitchers with CAHH devices of course.

Mösl's very serious about this. He's suggesting that in the future we can completely replace public transport by CAHH in cities of less than 100,000 inhabitants. In larger cities a public transport backbone will still be necessary according to his calculations.

Anyhow, you have the general idea. Mösl will no doubt be happy to tell you more if you're keen on specifics. He presents the idea on the web at:

or you can write to him in person at Fischer von Erlachstrasse 43/508, 5020 Salzburg, Austria. The home of Mozart and the Sound of Music ... and now the sound of CAHH.

At whatever level though, I think the falling cost and spreading convenience of mobile telephone will eventually reach even the humble hitcher in some way, shape or form. It's just a matter of time. But then again, maybe the chicken did come before the egg ...

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