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A commonly taught adage is to never accept a ride from a stranger. This applies mostly to children and goes hand in hand with warnings about accepting gifts from strangers.

Now, having grown older, I cannot think of anyone amongst my friends, associates or acquaintances that would ever willing harm a child by giving them a lift and stealing them away. Is riding with strangers truly unsafe for children?

To help define the question: How many child kidnappings (or other crimes) began by the child accepting a ride from a stranger? How does this compare to other kidnappings or other sources of danger for children?

The bonus question here involves hitchhiking, which is essentially the same thing but over long distances and usually by people much older.

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You might suffer from sample bias here. First, the people who wouldn't harm a child by giving them a lift aren't the people who hang around with their car near an elementary school in the first place. Second, many cases of child abduction/abuse are done by people you would never expect it from. – Lagerbaer May 26 '11 at 18:31
@Lagerbaer: I don't disagree. But that thought prompted the question and I thought, "Hey, I know some people who could help answer this." – MrHen May 26 '11 at 18:39
@Lagerbaer the elementary school closest to where I live shares its parking lot with a housing area and a supermarket. People hang out there all the time :) – jwenting Mar 14 '12 at 6:26
Your question title and text doesn't match, IMHO. You seem to ask more like "Are child-kidnapping strangers a real/big thread", i.e. ask for the probability that this will happen, but the current title ask if riding with strangers is unsafe per-so, i.e. would something happen if a child accepts a ride by a stranger. Both are different things. Simply because this kind of kidnappings don't happen often it doesn't make it safer to enter the starting scenario of one. Your Q is good but the title makes it sound that "No, riding with strangers is safe" would be a possible answer, which is absurd. – Martin Scharrer Mar 14 '12 at 8:58
@MartinScharrer: The title is worded that way because this is the phrase that parents and adults use to tell kids not to accept rides from strangers. I would be perfectly accepting of an answer that said, "Riding with strangers is safe." Why would it be absurd? – MrHen Mar 15 '12 at 10:32
up vote 11 down vote accepted

Here is a link that puts child kidnappings and disappearences in context. The figures are for Canada.

The first thing to notice is that of the 60,000 or so missing children in a typical year, there are about 100 times as many runaways as there are kidnappings. Of those kidnappings, 80-90% are parental abductions. The number of kidnappings by someone other than a parent (not necessarily a stranger) are around the 30-60 range per year. Essentially that means your likelihood of having a child kidnapped by a non-parent is about the same as winning a million dollars on the lottery.

Here is an exceptionally detailed study of kidnappings in Canada.

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Kidnapping is not the only risk. Mugging/robbery is much more common. Assualt, rape, or murder are also to be considered. Not to mention what do you do if they do not go where they are saying and drop you off somewhere you do not want to be or know where you are? – Chad May 26 '11 at 21:06
Given that the question specifically mentioned children I assumed kidnapping was the main cause of concern (murder would be included in the figures and study above, since the child would be considered missing before it was known they were dead - unless the murderer dumped the body in a well-frequented place). – DJClayworth May 26 '11 at 21:27
It's worth noting how rigorously children are taught not to get into cars with strangers. If we lived in a society where this was not such a pervading teaching, then there may be considerably more car abductions. These statistics don't suggest that getting into a car with an adult is safe (like the OP was asking about). Rather, they may suggest that hardly any children will actually get into a car with an adult. – Casey Patton May 27 '11 at 8:54
I don't say children should hop in a stranger's car, but don't assume it's necessarily with nefarious purposes that someone offers a child a ride. The adult could see the child in what he considers an unsafe situation and try to help (and that's me saying, a registered paranoid person). Or would you rather see a child standing alone in the dark on the side of a road, waiting for a parent who's already late and getting later by the minute, maybe has had an accident and can't come at all? – jwenting Mar 14 '12 at 9:21
@MartinScharrer "If a stranger ask a child to come into his car its mostly unsafe!" You absolutely have no evidence to back that up. The questions "Does this happens often" and "Is it safe" are ALWAYS related. Is it safe to ride the bus, or walk down the street? Your answer would seem to be "no", because people have been harmed doing those things. But most people's answer is "yes" because those incidents are very rare. – DJClayworth Mar 14 '12 at 13:13

Mostly it is going to depend on how safe of a driver the person is. Because most people are generally good and unless you provoke them excessively are not going to harm you. But some people are just bad drivers and I would wager that the odds are more in favor of being harmed in an accident caused by their bad driving than any ill intent.

This Link shows over 2.2 million accidents with injuries in the US in 2009. (Note 2009 is not abnomally high). There were about 500000 missing people reported in 2002 that were not family abductions. This number includes people who have runaway or just gone missing. But assuming that even 50% of these are stranger abductions there is still a greater risk of being hurt in a car accident than of being abducted.

Acquaintance kidnapping involves a “comparatively high percentage of juvenile perpetrators, has the largest percentage of female and teenage victim, is more often associated with other crimes (especially sexual and physical assault), occurs at homes and residences and has the highest percentage of injured victims.”

Stranger kidnapping “victimizes more females than males, occurs primarily at outdoor locations, victimizes both teenagers and school-age children, is associated with sexual assaults in the case of girl victims and robberies in the case of boy victims, and is the type of kidnapping most likely to involve the use of a firearm.”


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Interesting point about bad driving. That would be a fun one to pull out at a PTA: "Did you know that if your child accepts a ride from a stranger, they are more likely to be injured in a subsequent car crash than get kidnapped?" – MrHen May 26 '11 at 21:05
While providing interesting input to the question at hand, your answer is not properly referenced as required for this site. – Lagerbaer May 26 '11 at 21:07
Driving fatalities vastly outweigh the number of non-parental kidnappings given by the other answer Lagerbaer's sample bias argument should also be taken into consideration, but considering DJClayworth's statistics in conjunction, I agree with Chad that unsafe driving is certainly the largest risk at least in the most likely situations where a ride from a stranger would be offered or requested. – Dan Brumleve May 27 '11 at 3:55
It seems that I compared apples and oranges! The point is still valid because there are orders of magnitude involved. – Dan Brumleve May 27 '11 at 7:04
Wearing the wrong colours at night definitely can be a factor, but in my experience body language plays a much stronger role. Are you walking like a victim, or with confidence? Are you paying enough attention to what's going on in the local area, and can you be astute enough to realize when something's out of place (it may be very subtle)? – Randolf Richardson Jun 30 '11 at 4:07

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