Opinion | Slow Down, Kids Around

ROAD SAFETY MESSAGE: The loss of four-year-old Tom McLaughlin, who was hit by a 4WD, inspired his parents to establish the Little Blue Dinosaur Foundation.

ROAD SAFETY MESSAGE: The loss of four-year-old Tom McLaughlin, who was hit by a 4WD, inspired his parents to establish the Little Blue Dinosaur Foundation.

THIS summer, you’ll see colourful ‘Slow Down Kids Around’ and ‘Hold My Hand’ signs near Newcastle, Lake Macquarie and Port Stephens beaches.

These councils are on board with Little Blue Dinosaur Foundation’s ‘Holiday Time’ child pedestrian road safety campaign.

During the school holidays – 12 weeks a year –  the 40kmh school zones are not in force, yet there are more children around our roads than usual. They are excited, they may be in unfamiliar areas, and road safety is often far from their minds.

On January 6, 2014, in the blink of an eye, our family was shattered. My husband, David, and I were on holiday with our three children at MacMasters Beach on the Central Coast when our middle child, Tom, was hit by a 4WD travelling at 50kmh. Unpredictably, he had run from a standstill directly onto the narrow, unmarked road. Despite our desperate attempts to save him, Tom died at the scene. He was four years old.

Our grief was unspeakable, and we miss Tom every day. But, eventually, we formed the view that, from something so devastating, must come something good. Our Little Blue Dinosaur Foundation became not just a strategy for survival, but a lasting legacy for Tom. The logo is his own artwork. The little blue dinosaur was his signature drawing.

In 2014, with the then Gosford City Council, we started a campaign to bring the life-saving government-endorsed messages of child pedestrian safety to busy holiday communities: Slow Down Kids Around and Hold My Hand.

An inquest into Tom’s death highlighted that children take their behavioural cues from their environment, but on holiday, roads may look very different to roads at home – there may be no line markings, kerbs or footpaths, and there may be a lot of parked cars. It is not always clear where it is safe to walk or cross.

The inquest also heard that a pedestrian struck by a car travelling at 50kmh is twice as likely to die than if they are struck at 40kmh. The chances improve the slower the vehicle is travelling.

Road safety experts advise that children have limited cognitive abilities around roads until they are 10; some say 12. Because they are smaller, they are less able to see and judge the whole situation. Because their brains are not fully developed, they have limited peripheral vision and slower reflexes, and cannot predict the origin of sound or use it as a measure of distance.

Holiday areas cannot be rebuilt overnight, and children will always be children – but our signs can increase awareness and reduce risk.

Last year, road trauma took the lives of 1295 Australians, and cost our country $27billion. Since we lost Tom, 70 more children have died as a result of being struck by cars, and thousands more have been hospitalised. The costs – emotional and financial – are too high.

Three years since we launched we have 29 councils in four states working with us to keep children safe. Our work is endorsed by Transport for NSW, the Centre for Road Safety and the Roads and Maritime Services, and we are immensely grateful for state government grants.

What can you do to help? Reinforce the messages Slow Down Kids Around and Hold My Hand in your families and communities. And please consider supporting our foundation. For more information visit littlebluedinosaur.org and follow us on Facebook.

Michelle McLaughlin is founder and CEO of the Little Blue Dinosaur Foundation