Before considering taking pepper spray with you, read the entire article about hitchhiker's safety. Pepper spray is definitely one of the more anti social ways and not many hitchhikers think it's necessary (or even desirable) to bring pepper spray when hitchhiking. Still, nobody wants to think too much about possible negative encounters while hitchhiking, but if the unthinkable happens, and you find yourself in a dangerous situation, you might be grateful to be in possession of some pepper spray. In some countries it is entirely legal (Germany, for example, as in the south you may encounter bears.), in other countries it is illegal to carry in public.
Mode of action
Pepper spray is an aerosol containing capsaicin, the pure essential oil of pepper, for use in self defence against an aggressor, be it human or animal. It works by irritating the eyes, skin and airways, causing the eyes to snap shut involuntarily, the sensation of being "set alight", violent coughing and disorientation. The effects last around 30 minutes, giving you time to escape and call for help, whilst leaving the aggressor with no permanent damage. It is used by police forces the world over as a non lethal weapon.
Dangers to the user
Pepper spray is potentially dangerous in enclosed spaces, as you may find that you are incapacitated to the same extent as the aggressor. Pepper Gel aerosols are an alternative: these emit a high pressure stream of gel instead of a spray mist, which means that if you need to deploy in an enclosed space (like the back of a car, or from inside your tent), or in the wind, you will not be affected by the substance yourself.
Legal Issues - Europe
There are penalties for possession of this type of offensive weapon in Belgium.
In the Czech Republic, pepper spray is not classified as weapon and its possession is legal. Police also encourage vulnerable groups like pensioners and women to carry pepper spray.
In France, it is legal for anyone over the age of 18 to buy a pepper spray in an armoury or military surplus store. It is classified as a Category 6 Weapon in French law. If the aerosol contains more than 100ml, it is classed as an offensive weapon, and possession in a public place can be punished by confiscation and a fine. However, if it contains less than 100ml, while still a Category 6 Weapon, it is not classed as a punishable offence for the purposes of the Weapons law, so if you are controlled, it will be confiscated with maybe a verbal warning given.
Pepper spray is sold in Germany to anyone over the age of 18, as a defence against wild animals. It is also accepted (technically illegal, but the police don't care) that women or vulnerable people may carry one to protect against rape or other aggression. Explaining to the police that you are an independent traveller and that it is your only defence will usually be enough to satisfy the officer (in urban areas). Using it against humans in any other situation than defence from a serious threat is an offence.
In Italy, the Decree of the Ministry of Interior n°103 dated May 12, 2011 removed all restrictions over private purchase, ownership and everyday carry by any citizen over 16 years of age without a criminal record of all and any OC-based compounds and personal defence devices that respond to the following criteria:
- Containing a payload not exceeding 20 ml., with a maximum concentration not exceeding 2,5%
- No flammable propellant
- Sealed when sold and featuring a safety device against accidental discharge
- With a range not exceeding 3 metres
In Latvia, pepper spray in canisters is classified as a self defence device and can be carried by anyone over 16. Pepper spray "pistols" can be carried without a licence by persons over 18.
There are penalties for possession of this type of offensive weapon in the Netherlands.
There are heavy penalties for possession of this type of offensive weapon in the Republic of Ireland.
In Spain, pepper spray is approved by the Ministry of Health and Consumption for sale to anyone over 18, if it is:
- at a concentration no greater than 5%
- in canisters containing not more than 22 grams
Legal use is technically confined to self defence against large wild animals, such as wild boar in rural areas.
There are heavy penalties for possession of this type of offensive weapon in the United Kingdom.
Legal Issues - North America
There are penalties for possession of this type of offensive weapon in Canada, unless there is a lawful excuse. Lawful excuse might include defence against large wild animals in some areas, but not self defence against persons in public places,
The law varies wildly between states.