Hitchhiking forms the backbone of American folk rock and horror films, and relies on the good intentions of drivers and hitchhikers alike. But state laws and federal regulations may prevent you from legally partaking in the American hitchhiking experience, if you're not too careful.
So is it legal to hitchhike or pick up hitchhikers? Here's a general overview:
State Laws Vary on Hitchhiking
As you might expect, the 50 states do not agree on how to regulate hitchhikers. Generally, states fall into one of three categories with respect to hitchhiking:
- Allowed, but not in the road. The vast majority of states will allow you to solicit a ride while on the shoulder of a highway, as long as you're not physically in the road. Most of these statutes, like California's, have general laws preventing hitchhikers from standing in a "roadway" for the purpose of soliciting a ride. "Roadways" in these states do not include the public sidewalk or shoulder of a highway.
- Allowed, but not on "traveled portions" of the road. Perhaps in an attempt to keep hitchhikers and other pedestrians safe, some states bar hitchhiking on both the road and the shoulder. For example, in Florida, the law prohibits hitchhiking on any "portion of a roadway paved for vehicular traffic."
- Not allowed at all. A few states still generally prohibit the act of soliciting rides anywhere near a highway or a roadway that lacks a sidewalk. Utah is one of them.
In any of these states, a police officer may detain and question you if he or she believes you are endangering yourself or drivers by attempting to hitch a ride.
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Federal Regulation of Hitchhiking
There's no real federal law regulating hitchhiking on the nation's highways and byways, but if you are on federal land (likely when in a federal park) you may want to think twice about hitchhiking. Federal regulations set by the Department of the Interior plainly prohibit hitchhiking "except in designated areas" and at the federal government's discretion.
It's unclear how well this rule is enforced, but it may convince hitchhikers to be friendly to park rangers.
Picking Up Hitchhikers
There is generally no rule against picking up hitchhikers, although there may be some general danger in riding with a complete stranger. You may be picking up a friendly traveler or the next murder suspect.
Whether in a car or hitchhiking, try to be safe out on the road.