Hitchin’ a ride
They stand alone in cold temperatures alongside busy roads. They are young and old, male and female, foreigners and locals with one thing in common: a destination and a willingness to use their thumbs to get there.
Hitchhiking is hardly a Tahoe phenomenon, but anyone living here or visiting can’t help but notice the many individuals using their thumbs as a mode of transportation. Although soliciting rides on the road can be both unlawful and dangerous, many in the Truckee-Tahoe area say they’d choose hitchhiking over public transportation any day.
“It’s a mountain town – everyone’s going to the ski area, especially on a snowy day,” said James Rau, 36, who was hitchhiking up Alpine Meadows Road recently. “It seems pretty safe and it’s way more convenient than the bus.”
Cammie Buehler, 29, had her thumb up on Highway 89, heading toward Squaw Valley. Although she owns a four-wheel drive truck, she said she considers herself an avid hitchhiker. She opts to thumb her way around town when she’s having car trouble – which she says is often – or when the roads around her house aren’t fully plowed. Although she usually hitchhikes by herself, she said she’s never felt unsafe.
“I’ve hitchhiked in other places and sometimes I’ve felt so uncomfortable I’ve asked to be let out early,” she said, adding that rarely happens in Tahoe.
Although there’s no way to quantify the number of hitchhikers in the area or whether that number has increased in recent years, take a drive on the access roads in and out of local ski resorts at 7:30 a.m. or 4:30 p.m. and you’re sure to see at least one lift operator trying to bum a ride to or from work.
California Vehicle Code states that no person shall stand in a roadway for the purpose of soliciting a ride from the driver of any vehicle.
“What that means is that if you’re standing inside the white lines of the roadway hitchhiking, it’s illegal,” California Highway Patrol spokesman Kirk Bromell said. “But if you’re on the shoulder, it’s not in violation.”
The law also states that any pedestrian or bicycle traffic on freeways is illegal, so hitchhikers must stand before the on- ramp to solicit rides on roads such as Interstate 80, Bromell said. He also pointed out that a car stopping to pick up hitchhikers must be able to legally pull out and park in order to avoid traffic violations.
Although Bromell admits that the Tahoe-Truckee area sees a high number of hitchhikers, that doesn’t mean it’s safe. Officers from the Placer County Sherriff’s Office and the CHP, however, said that no hitchhiking-related crimes or accidents have occured in recent years to their knowledge.
“We would discourage the practice, but there’s nothing we can do,” Bromell said.
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