It is this time of year where thousands of Australian families start planning their summer break and holiday trips. This is also a crucial time of year to talk about road safety and keeping our children safe around roadways. During the summer months, school zones are not operating and there are many more children about.
Little Blue Dinosaur's "It's Holiday Time: Slow Down, Kids Around" campaign, which launches every December across 61 councils in four states (and counting) is aimed at educating and protecting child pedestrians during school holiday time.
The Little Blue Dinosaur Foundation was established by Michelle and David McLaughlin in memory of their four-year-old son Tom, who tragically passed away in a pedestrian road accident while on a Central Coast family vacation in 2014.
The campaign targets all road users including; child pedestrians, accompanying adult pedestrian carers and drivers. It acknowledges that holidaying road users may not be fully aware of the impact of "differing" roadway landscapes of their holiday destination. The campaign also focuses on local drivers to be more diligent and aware of the increased number of children on our roads during this time. Many cities and communities also offer summer activities for children in playgrounds, libraries and museums etc. which will significantly increase the foot traffic in these areas.
Busy holiday places – with roads, shops, parks and beaches all close together – are exactly the kinds of places our message is most needed. Children have physical, perceptual and cognitive limitations around roads which when coupled with the excitement of being on holiday, increases the risk factors. It is also a new environment for children where the ''holidays" roadway environment can look different to what children are used to seeing and they may not therefore, recognise them as a roadway.
Question: Can you tell us about Little Blue Dinosaur?
Michelle McLaughlin: LBDF was established in 2014 following the tragic death of our precious son, Tom McLaughlin (aged four years) to a pedestrian motor vehicle accident on the Central Coast of NSW on January 6, 2014 whilst we were on a family holiday. Our mission is to help prevent and reduce serious injuries and deaths of child pedestrians in Australia… and to that end we now partner with 61 LGAs across four Australian states to promote child pedestrian safety using our brightly coloured family friendly signage campaigns. The messages of the "Holiday Time" signage campaign are targeted at all road users… (Children, parents, carers and drivers) "Slow Down Kids Around and "Hold My Hand.
Question: What originally inspired the creation of Little Blue Dinosaur?
Michelle McLaughlin: The great we had for our son and the compelling desire to prevent other children from death or injury due to road trauma. Tom loved both dinosaurs and the colour blue and he started drawing these at age two and a half. By nature, Tom was a very caring and loving little boy and we felt although, he was now tragically gone that he could still go on to achieve something of value in this world. Tom's legacy has been achieved through the five years of dedicated road safety advocacy work accomplished by LBDF.
Question: Can you share your advice for sharing road-safety tips with children?
Michelle McLaughlin: Road safety conversations with children are VERY important and the experts tell us that these talks should happen daily when we are out and about and observing the traffic environment. It is also very helpful to model safe behaviors to children so that they will make best choices later on when we might not be with them. E.g. always choosing to cross roads at traffic lights and pedestrian crossings.
Be sure to explain to your children how important it is that they hold an adults hand when near roadways and moving vehicles till AGE 10. Children have cognitive, physical and perceptual limitations until that age and stage of their development. Children must be made aware that no matter how quiet a road may seem it is never okay to play on it EVER.
Examples include: -
Height limitations which may impede their view of the roadway and make it difficult for motorists to see them especially if stepping out between vehicles or from shrubbery or foliage that make it harder for them to be seen by oncoming motorists.
Trouble determining origin of sound when a car is approaching.
Developing peripheral (side) vision and Slower reflexes and ability to stop immediately.
Question: What message do you hope to spread with the It's Holiday Time: Slow Down, Kids Around campaign?
Michelle McLaughlin: We hope to bring community awareness to 'holiday time' road safety as the school zones do not operate at these busy times and children are en mass within our communities. Holidays are exciting times for young children and around recreation activities they can become highly excitable and move very quickly when in car parks or at the roadside near beaches and parks. We'd like parents and carers to be extra mindful and vigilant with regard to the HOLD MY HAND message especially with children aged 10 years and under. It is important as drivers that we remember that there are lots of children about at holiday times and to slow down and be watchful of child pedestrians. If a pedestrian (all ages) is hit at 40kph they have a 25% chance of being killed and at 50kph (our default suburban speed limit) is 55% so, with a mere 10kph upward shift in our speed the risk has more than doubled for a pedestrian death should a collision occur.
Question: How can all Australians ensure they are being extra diligent this holiday period?
Michelle McLaughlin: A split second can change your life forever, which has very much been the case in our family. Grief and bereavement especially where profound trauma is involved affect your everyday thoughts, health and wellbeing. It is so important when we are out in the traffic environment, that is very complex and constantly changing to actively supervise and restrain our precious little one's by holding their hands. HOLD MY HAND is a lifesaving road safety message and the level of responsibility is comparable to placing a seatbelt on a child in a vehicle.
Question: What advice do you have for parents, around road safety, this Summer?
Michelle McLaughlin: Be vigilant… Children can be fast and unpredictable in a heartbeat. They are often totally focused on the moment and having fun because they are so innocent and joyful however, we as parents/carers need to exercise due diligence at all times. If you are travelling to new destinations always and PLEASE take the time to talk with your children about the fact that road safety is 365 days per year. Roadways in many coastal areas of Australia look very different to what we might be used to at home with decreased infrastructure….no kerbs/gutters which blend seamlessly to roadways and moving vehicles travelling at 50Kph and greater, no footpaths ? Where exactly do we show the children to stand to keep safe and there are often no designated crossings. During holiday times there is an acute seasonal spike in the local population bringing with it more cars and foot traffic and increased risk of road related incidents to occur. Your children need to be just as road safety aware in these locations as they are at home. Look out for our colorful safety signage reminders in 61 LGAs across 4 Australian states… "HOLD MY HAND" and "SLOW DOWN KIDS AROUND".
Interview by Brooke Hunter