He Eight a Cheeseburger

It’s the early evening and the feeling hits you — you’re hungry, and you’re craving something not all that good for you. You’ve eaten dinner, sure, but McDonald’s is just around the corner. So you hop in your car and before you know it, you’re in the drive-through, ordering yourself something you may regret an hour later.

And then the cops arrive and you end up in tears.

Okay, that’s not how the story typically ends. But that’s what happened on April 9, 2017, in East Palestine, Ohio.

Why? Because the person going through the drive-through didn’t have his driver’s license yet. He couldn’t, because he was only 8 years old.

Eight-year-olds typically don’t drive cars — in Ohio, you need to be twice that age before you can get a driver’s license. But the boy, whose name has gone unreported to protect him from a lifetime of bad Google results, didn’t seem to care about that minor barrier to burgerdom. That evening, at about 8 pm, he stood on his tippy-toes and successfully reached for the keys to the family van, all while his parents were asleep. He grabbed his piggy bank and invited his four-year-old sister to go with him to get some food. The boy sat in the driver’s seat, turned on the ignition, and the pair were off on the greatest adventure of their young lives.

The caper almost went off without a hitch, too. As the Weirton (West Virginia) Daily Times reported, “When he pulled up to the drive-through window after ordering a cheeseburger he had been craving and intended to pay for using money he gathered from his piggy bank, the McDonald’s workers at first thought they were being pranked,” and the parents were hiding in the back seat. The McDonald’s staff almost shrugged it off, but as other customers checked the van, they noticed that no adults were in the vehicle. Someone called the police, and when they arrived, the boy started crying, realizing that he probably did something wrong.

Jake Koehler, the police officer who questioned the boy, was befuddled but kind. He told local news station WKBN that he asked the boy how he learned how to drive. The response? The boy looked up videos on YouTube and taught himself what to do behind the wheel. And apparently, those YouTube videos were effective. The trip from home to the Golden Arches was about a mile and a half (about 2.5 km) through a somewhat busy downtown area — and the young driver navigated it without issue. Per the Daily Times, “according to [eyewitnesses], the boy obeyed all traffic laws, stopping properly at red lights and waited for traffic to pass before making the left turn into the McDonald’s parking lot.”

The story had a happy ending, too. A customer at the McDonald’s recognized the kids and called their grandparents, who accompanied the children to the police station. The kids got their food and were allowed to eat it (at the police station, though) until their parents arrived to pick them up. The boy wasn’t charged with a crime. And, as the parents had no knowledge of the burger run and had not been neglecting their kids — both children had three pre-McDonald’s meals that day — they also avoided any problem with the legal system. Whether the boy got in trouble for borrowing the car, though, has gone unreported.

Bonus fact: As noted above, you need to be 16 years old before you can legally drive in Ohio. But even then, you can’t necessarily drive anyone you want. Per the above-linked page, in Ohio, 16-year-old drivers receive a “probationary driver’s license” with several restrictions. For example, probationary drivers can only have “no more than one non-family member passenger without parental supervision until teens have had their probationary license for one year or turn 18.” This isn’t unique to Ohio — many other states have similar requirements for new drivers.

That’s a change from how things were just a few decades ago, though. Until 1988, 16- and 17-year-olds in North and South Carolina could not only drive their friends to school, they could be hired as school bus drivers. The U.S. Department of Labor ended the practice that year after a young child was killed in a bus accident with a 17-year-old behind the wheel of the bus.

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