Here’s a quick quiz for you: what’s the difference between hitting an 11 year-old kid with a belt and letting an 11 year-old kid drive a golf cart? Take your time, it’s tricky. I’ll give you a hint: if you’re a public safety officer on Bald Head Island, NC, there really isn’t any difference.

I know this because child abuse charges against a mother, Julie Mall, have just been refiled by the Bald Head Island police department. The original charges were filed back in 2014, when Mall was arrested for allowing her 11 year-old son to drive a golf cart a few blocks back to their rented beach house, with the boy’s father sitting next to him.

Advertisement

Just to help understand the context, Bald Head Island is one of the Outer Banks islands off the coast of North Carolina. The island does not allow actual cars on the island itself, and so everyone on the resort island uses golf carts or bicycles to get around. This means that the road the kid was driving the golf cart on was only populated with golf carts, and nothing was going more than, say, 15-18 MPH. In fact, the speed limit on the island is 18 MPH.

The arrest of Julie Mall brought a lot of attention because the arrest itself proved to be quite disturbing and violent. Mall, who had no prior criminal record and is 5'4" and 125 lbs, was pinned to the ground, handcuffed, and put in leg irons by arresting officer James Hunter. There’s an alarming video of the event:

The officers claim Mall was intoxicated, which she denies. As you can imagine, both sides have different stories and, while the charges were dropped two years ago (because Hunter didn’t show up to two trial dates), a federal lawsuit against the village seems to have prompted a re-filing of charges.

Advertisement

That’s a whole mess unto itself, but I want to focus on the one part that everyone agrees on: Julie Mall let her son drive a golf cart on a paved path for two blocks with no traffic, and his father right by his side.

Since the legal age to drive a golf cart on Bald Head Island is 16, Mall admits she was wrong. And, sure, I agree–that’s technically against the law.

My problem is with the fact that the Bald Head Island public safety officers decided to charge her with child abuse, because that’s absolutely absurd. At worst, she should have been issued a ticket of some kind, the kid and the dad would switch seats, and they’d drive the half a block or so home. That’s it.

Even if the mom was rude, or belligerent, or resisting arrest, those should be separate charges, and shouldn’t affect the core charge of the kid driving.

The idea that letting a kid drive a 15 MPH golf cart with a parent right next to them is anything that even resembles child abuse drives me batshit. Hell, I bet actual child abusers would be driven batshit by this because they know letting a kid drive a golf cart really isn’t what they’re about.

When it comes to getting kids interested in cars and driving, I personally think letting an 11 year-old drive a cart on an empty road, fully supervised, is a pretty damn good way to give them a taste of what driving is like. I’d let my own kid do this when he’s around that age in a heartbeat. And I’m pretty sure that doesn’t make me a child abuser.

Advertisement

Regardless of what happens with this particular case, just the fact that it’s even possible for a police officer to charge someone with child abuse for letting their kid do something like this should be alarming to any parent, gearhead or not.

I can’t believe this even needs to be said, but letting your kid drive a slow, electric cart while you’re right fucking next to them is not, in any possible way, child abuse.

There. What if the kid was driving a Power Wheels jeep along the path? It’s not technically a golf cart, but performance-wise, it’s not too far off, really. And, that 11 year-old could have legally ridden a bike anywhere on the streets and paths of the island. A bike is technically capable of going faster, and is arguably more dangerous than a golf cart, should he lose control.

Advertisement

I’m not advocating letting 11 year-olds drive golf carts legally on Bald Head Island. Actually, if they had a little skill test to pass, I don’t really think I’d care. So maybe I am. Screw it, I am.

If a parent is right next to them, and they’ve shown they’re capable, then I’m going to say I’m fine with kids 11 and up driving golf carts on that stupid island. I’m fine with kids 14 and up driving a cart alone on the island.

That’s right, Bald Head Island. Your rules are stupid and the idea this incident would be called child abuse is absurd.

Come at me, you sand-addled bitches.