Mum’s desperate plea to all Aussie parents after life changes in 'a blink'

The tragic death of her four-year-old son is a poignant warning to all Aussie parents.

While thousands of families across the country head off on road trips this festive season, one Sydney mum is preparing to mark the ninth anniversary of an event no parent should ever have to endure.

On 6 January 2014, Michelle McLaughlin’s life was torn apart when her four-year-old son was killed in a tragic road accident on the first day of a family holiday to the New South Wales Central Coast.

The family of five had only arrived at the McMasters Beach home the night before and after spending a very hot day inside they were getting ready to head down to the beach. Little Tom had been helping ‘Nan and Grampy’ to retrieve towels and chairs from the boot of their car.

The McLaughlin family's at the beach.
The McLaughlin family's lives were torn apart when four-year-old Tom was killed in a road accident at McMasters Beach on the NSW Central Coast in 2014. Source: Narrative Post

“My son... he just took two little steps sideways and because of the verge.. I don’t think he actually realised that he was on a road,” the mother of three told Yahoo News Australia. “He wasn't doing anything out of the ordinary. He was just standing at the side of him [her father-in-law], slightly out of arm's reach.”

It was then that the four-year-old was struck by a passing vehicle, shattering the McLaughlin’s family holiday and lives forever.

“There was a four-wheel-drive right on him,” Michelle said. “She [the driver] was unable to brake.”

‘He was a good boy - how does that happen to a child like that?’

In the wake of the sheer horror of losing her son, Michelle struggled to understand how it could have happened to her “dearest and sweetest” boy.

Michelle with Tom and Sophie McLaughlin on scooters (left) Tom holding his baby brother Hugh (right).
Mum Michelle said Tom doted on his baby brother Hugh. Source: Michelle McLaughlin

“The really sad thing about that for our family is that I was a nurse for 20 years so you can imagine what I was like about safety and injury and I had drummed that in [to the kids] at home,” she said. “Tom would rouse on me on the way to preschool, which was a 10 minute walk, if I stepped over a driveway without stopping and looking. He would even scream at the neighbour's cat, 'get off the road, you're gonna get run over'.

“He was a good boy. He always held my hand. He was always alert in the neighbourhood. He held the pram. He never, ever put a foot wrong. You know you're left thinking, after such a terrible thing happened in literally a blink, how does that happen to a child like that?”

Tom’s legacy lives on through road safety education

It was that haunting question, and a desire to honour Tom, that led Michelle and her husband David to establish the Little Blue Dinosaur Foundation in a bid to raise awareness of the importance of child pedestrian safety.

“[After Tom’s death] we really felt shocked and devastated and were trying to figure it out for quite some months and you’re piecing things together, like the roadway environment, and you think, hey this could happen to another family,” Michelle said. “I do not want that happening to other mothers and fathers and siblings because it really affected us deeply. We were really in a very deep hole there for a while trying to come to terms with it. But the work of the Foundation is very positive.”

Tom and his dad David McLaughlin (left) and Tom holding a fish on a boat (right).
Michelle remembers her son, Tom, as the 'dearest and sweetest' little boy who loved everyone. Source: Michelle McLaughlin.

Through community education, government campaigning and the implementation of road safety signs in Local Government Areas, Michelle is working to prevent as many children as possible from suffering the same fate as her son.

“On average, one child a week in Australia dies in a road trauma, whether they're a pedestrian or cyclist or a passenger in a car,” she said. “There's been 422 in the last decade, with no change, no improvement.”

These school holidays, the Foundation is working with experts from the University of NSW’s Transport and Road Safety Research Centre to issue a serious warning about safety on our roads. They’re asking all Australians to slow down, be vigilant and save lives.

Following her son's death, Michelle established the Little Blue Dinosaur Foundation 
with her husband David in a bid to raise awareness of road safety for children. Source: Narrative Post
Following her son's death, Michelle established the Little Blue Dinosaur Foundation with her husband David in a bid to raise awareness of road safety for children. Source: Narrative Post

Michelle urged parents and caregivers in particular to be attentive and closely supervise children near roadways, driveways and carparks.

“Children under 10 have those cognitive, perceptual and physical limitations around roads, and can be excited in a minute’s flash,” she explained. “That’s why they need their hand held and they need that active supervision of a parent. I mean ‘eyes on supervision’ because they can just move very, very quickly and unexpectedly as my Tom did.”

“With young children holding their hand is just as important as putting a seatbelt on them in the car. I can’t stress that enough.”

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