Appendix II: More detailed questionnaire in the van

Right from the beginning of this project it was obvious that precise quantification would be out of the question. To quantify one has to pick a sample. For this one must have an idea of the total population involved. To estimate a 'population' of hitch-hikers one would have to define what a hitch-hiker is. Someone who has hitched once in his life? Someone who has hitched with premeditation (i.e. not just missed the last bus once in 1939)? A person who hitches at least once a year? A person predisposed to hitch? A person who hitches journeys over 50 miles? All these possible definitions are idiotic. It just can't be sewn up usefully.

Being unable to define a hitch-hiker, I can't quantify him accurately.

On the other hand I wanted to get detailed information from a substantial number of de-facto hitchers. So I prepared a list of thirty questions covering the following areas: personal particulars, parental status, parental attitudes to thumbing, hitch-hiker police relations, drivers' attitudes to hitchers as perceived by the latter, sexual and other 'unpleasant' experiences and 'cadging'.

So as to ensure a cooperative mood in the interviewees I decided that the best way of tackling them was to give them lifts and administer the questionnaire as we travelled their way. So my 15 cwt Bedford van was fixed up with a table and stools in the back, a friend took the wheel and we spent ten days cruising along the motorways picking people up and grilling them. This happened over the last weekend in August 1968 (including the bank holiday) and the first two weekends in September.

The people we picked up do not constitute a sample. There are a number of factors which make the 186 people questioned a group with special characteristics and therefore in some ways likely to be unaverage. To take these biasing factors in order:

We cruised the motorways and main arteries, M.1, M.6, East Lancs Road, A.1, M.4, and mostly not side roads or country roads.

For the most part we found ourselves picking up weekend and holiday long distance hitchers.

We tended to sweep into our net the thumbers other drivers had shunned. So we probably got more than our share of non-middle class, teenage males. We certainly got less than our share of girl thumbers. To my driver's chagrin one girl at the Coventry end of the M.1 turned down the lift he so gallantly offered her!

Aside from the particular characteristics of the group we picked up there were problems about the interview situation inside the van. When there were several people in the back together they listened to each other being questioned, and in some cases this may have coloured certain of the answers they gave. One or two of the girls were shy of talking about sexual incidents in front of men.

We deliberately excluded from interview foreigners, platers, lorry drivers and anyone who said they were over 30. Foreigners because the book is not about them; platers and lorry drivers because they have a very distinctive perception of their own hitching, which jars with the questions I wanted answers to; people over 30 because sensible replies to many of the questions presuppose reasonably good recall of adolescence.

So the information gathered from the 186 picked up in my van in late summer 1968 relates to these specific individuals. It is impossible to gauge accurately how representative or otherwise they are. Their information is simply one element in the general picture I have attempted to project. It forms part of my impression.