'We don't want this to happen to anyone else': Bereaved parents launch road safety campaign

Photo: Blue Dinosuar Foundation
Photo: Blue Dinosuar Foundation 

A family who lost their little boy in a pedestrian road accident are honouring his legacy with the launch of their road safety campaign: "Holiday Time, Slow Down Kids Around."

It's a message Sydney parents Michelle and David McLaughlin, whose son Tom, 4, was killed while on holiday in 2014, feel passionate about ahead of summer as Australian families visit destinations where kerbs, gutters and roads are often different to what children are used to at home.

They feel the message is even more important this year with more families holidaying locally, meaning streets in holiday towns will be even busier than usual. 

"We lost our precious son, Tom in the blink of an eye.  We don't want this to happen to anyone else.  The cost is just too high. That's why the 'Holiday Time, Slow Down Kids Around' message is so important," Mrs McLaughlin says.

The McLaughlins established The Little Blue Dinosaur Foundation following their beloved Tom's death on the NSW Central Coast - a night they say tore their family apart.

"Tom adored both dinosaurs and the colour blue,"Mrs McLaughlin tells Essential Kids. "I found a lot of Tom's dinosaur drawings in notepads and on pieces of paper when I was going through his things after he tragically passed away. I felt that they were trying to tell me something. I guess that message was to share Tom's story and help prevent little ones being seriously injured or killed in pedestrian accidents."

The night the family lost their beautiful boy is something she notes will forever be etched in their memories. 

"At 5.55pm our family began gathering at the front of the rental property to walk towards the beach just 250 metres away for a swim at the end of a scorching hot day," Mrs McLaughlin says.

"Tom had been so overjoyed and excited at the prospect of using his new surfboard for the first time when he unpredictably and very quickly took two steps from a stationary position from the grassy verge which blended seamlessly into the narrow 5.3 metre wide beach hamlet roadway."

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The little boy, who was due to start school the following year, stepped into the path of 4WD travelling at 50 kilometres per hour - the default speed limit for the area. He was tragically pronounced dead at the scene.

"Every parent's worst nightmare was now our painful, unbearable and harsh reality," she says. "It had only taken a microsecond to happen."

To cope with what they describe as the "agony" of losing their precious boy, and to help their two children with the grief of losing their brother, the McLaughlins says the family have a new mission - to education others about road safety during school and holiday time.

"Too many children have tragically died on our roads since we lost Tom in 2014 and we aren't willing to rest until this number is zero," Mrs McLaughlin says. 

The annual campaign is supported by dozens of councils across Australia.

This year, Ms McLaughlin has also written a children's road safety book called Tom's Holiday to help raise awareness of the importance of road safety for children especially at holiday times. 

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Ms McLaughlin explains that children have a number of physical, perceptual and cognitive limitations around roads.

Until age 10, they have:

  • Limitation in their cognitive abilities to understand each element of the complex (and constantly changing) road environment
  • Trouble determining the origin of sound when a car is approaching
  • They take longer to react to sudden changes in the traffic environment
  • Generally lack the height to fully assess the scene
  • They are often absorbed in whatever activities they are doing and whilst they might hear a message such as "stop!", it will take their brain additional time to react. This could potentially place them in life-threatening danger
  • Children may falsely believe that a roadway that appears quiet is okay to play on

These factors, individually or in combination put children at risk.

"This is why we, along with road safety experts across the country, constantly stress that an adult should always accompany and actively supervise children until eight when they're anywhere near a road," Ms McLaughlin notes. "Holding their hand near to roadway is as important as placing a seatbelt on them in a car if not more so as there is no external protection around their bodies when out and about."

She adds that children must also be made aware that no matter how quiet a road may seem it is never okay to play on it EVER. "Use the backyard, cycleways and local parks to play in."

The Blue Dinosaur Foundation also advises parents to follow these tips: 

  • Talk about what different road signs mean, identify safe places to cross together and reinforce the STOP, LOOK, LISTEN, and THINK procedure.
  • Road safety should be a daily conversation as our children are exposed to the danger of roadways, driveways and vehicles daily.
  • We should be teaching our kids today about putting away our phone away when we go near a road as well as taking our headphones out of our ears and focusing on what is in front of us.

Mrs McLaughlin speaks proudly of the legacy her boy will leave. "Our family feels that Tom would be very pleased with what has been achieved in his name to help other children," she says.