The past couple of months, I've somehow gotten to thinking a lot about the whole "don't accept rides from strangers" rule that kids are usually taught. And the same goes for picking up strangers, since you never know if random person you pick up is going to be an axe murderer or, even worse, someone who thinks that WDW's Fantasmic is better than DL's Fantasmic. They tell you not to hitchhike and also not to pick up hitchhikers because it's dangerous since you don't know anything about the other person or what their intentions are. ("The Hitcher", anyone?)
I wish there was a way to figure that out, because I have found myself on several occasions wishing I could safely offer a ride to a total stranger. The last time was a couple of weeks ago when I saw an older woman, maybe in her 60s or 70s, walking along the sidewalk and carrying two grocery bags which were obviously a little heavy. I assumed she was walking home from the store. It would have been really easy for me to just stop the car and offer her a ride. I wasn't in any big hurry to get anywhere, and I figure that if she was walking, she couldn't have been going too far, so it's not like it would have been completely out of my way.
On other occasions, I've seen people waiting at a bus stop in the pouring rain or the blistering heat, and I know that for a while at least, I'm going in the same direction as the bus they're waiting for, so it would be easy just to offer them a ride - they'd be more comfortable and it's not like it would be a hardship for me or anything to give them that short ride.
But then, I remember that no matter what they might look like, I don't know anything about them, and I'm not trusting enough to just give them the benefit of the doubt. I don't know what could end up happening, and it might just be that the first 99 times it happens, nothing bad comes out of it, they're happy to have had a stranger do them a favor, and I feel good about doing something nice for a stranger. But if something were to go terribly awry the 100th time I did it, I wouldn't feel comfortable taking that chance.
And on the flip side, I think I generally don't appear to be a sinister person, so I would probably look safe to accept a ride from, but again, looks can be deceiving, and they don't know that I'm not just going to kidnap them or do something bad to them once they get in my car. Who knows, I could be one of those decoys, someone who doesn't *look* like they'd do something bad, which is precisely who you want to lure people in so you can do bad things to them.
So I was trying to figure out if there was some way to build a car so that there were safeguards built in. There would have to be a separate compartment or something for the passenger to sit in so that no funny stuff could happen. Both the driver and the passenger would have to have the ability to separate the passenger from the car, so the driver can't kidnap the passenger against his/her will, and the passenger can't refuse to leave the car if the driver wants him/her out, so maybe some kind of detachable sidecar that has some kind of mechanism for control so that even if the passenger gets all creepy, and the driver detaches the sidecar, the sidecar doesn't just go careening into traffic - it would have to be able to be steered and stopped in a reasonably short amount of time. But then, that might be expensive for the driver, because now, they need a new sidecar, which I expect would cost a bit to replace.
So every time something happens that brings this dilemma back into my head, I try to figure out a way to make it work, and so far, FAIL.
And while I've never picked up a total stranger, I will admit that I've accepted a ride from a total stranger.
When I was going to Cal, they were notorious for having limited student housing, and I didn't make it into any of the on-campus housing slots. Cal rented out a dorm in another college a city away (about a 30 minute city bus ride), so that's where a bunch of us Cal students ended up staying. The college was up a dead-end hill, and the bus stop was at the bottom of the hill, so before I had a car, I hated that uphill climb every afternoon. One particular afternoon, it was POURING RAIN. I think I had an umbrella, I can't remember, but I was getting soaked as I trudged up the hill anyway. A station wagon pulled up next to me, and a woman was in the front seat. She said she lived nearby and asked if I was going up to the college and if so, did I want a ride, because she saw me drowning in the rain and felt bad for me. The walk up the hill went past a number of houses, so I did know that it was a residential district. She looked nice and concerned, and she was driving a station wagon for goodness' sake - she totally looked like a mom with kids, though there were none in the car at that moment. I hesitated for a second, heard the warning in my head about accepting rides from strangers, but then remembered I was still getting soaked, so I thankfully accepted her offer. She drove me all the way up the hill and pretty much to the front door of the dorm entrance. I thanked her profusely, and she said she was happy to do it and drove off. Since we were heading up a dead-end road to the college, I figured it wasn't like she could just easily take off in a different direction if she had any nefarious plans to kidnap me. I was also sitting in the back seat, so she couldn't grab me and hold me, and I could pretty much just open the door and get out any time I wanted to, jumping if necessary, I suppose. All of that, plus her appearance and the car and circumstances flashed in my mind as I hesitated that second before I accepted. And obviously, everything turned out just fine. And no, I've never done that again.
But see, there are drivers and passengers who are perfectly nice people who don't have any sinister plans and who just want to offer a nice favor or who just might be the grateful recipient of a nice gesture - if only there was a sure-fire way to tell.