New report reveals grim statistics on our roads and driveways

Aussie mum Michelle McLaughlin, the driving force behind the report, lost her son Tom in a pedestrian road crash in 2014. Photo: JoVi Creative.

IT’S Australia’s heartbreaking legacy.

Road trauma is the leading cause of death for children aged one to fourteen in this country.

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On average, one child is killed in a road crash in Australia every week.

Most deaths of children in land and transport crashes in Australia (59 percent) occur when they are passengers or bystanders, but a significant percentage (29 percent) occur when children are pedestrians.

Between 2001-2019, 439 children aged zero to fourteen years were killed in a pedestrian road trauma incident.

A new study from Little Blue Dinosaur Foundation and UNSW’s Transport and Road Safety Research Centre is aiming to address these concerning statistics with an investigation into the factors that lead to child pedestrian fatalities.

Looking at almost two decades of data patterns from the National Coronial Information System (NCIS), the report has identified common trends in the circumstances and causes of fatal pedestrian crashes involving children aged zero to fourteen years in Australia.

Aussie mum Michelle McLaughlin is the driving force behind the report.

She and husband David founded the Little Blue Dinosaur Foundation to campaign for children’s road safety after the tragic loss of their four-year-old son, Tom, in a pedestrian road crash in 2014.

Michelle says that through analysing and identifying these trends, better prevention strategies can be recommended and implemented to reduce child pedestrian fatalities.

“This is the largest study of its kind to date, and is a crucial step towards understanding and reducing risks for child pedestrians on our roads.

“It can inform strategies for tackling the problem of child road trauma, particularly child pedestrian fatalities,” she said.

“There is a lack of awareness that the issue of child road trauma is as serious as it is across Australia.

“While there was a drop in fatal pedestrian incidents involving children in the early 2000s, there is little sign of further significant decline since then, so we must act on these findings to address this national crisis.”

Completed with support from the Commonwealth Road Safety Innovation Fund, the review discovered several significant patterns around the characteristics of child pedestrian fatality incidents.

Key findings include:

– Younger children were involved in most incidents, with one-year-olds representing one-quarter of child pedestrian fatalities.

– Over half of the fatalities were four years old or under.

– Numbers of cases were lower from six to twelve years but increased for children aged thirteen and fourteen.

– When it comes to location, most child pedestrian fatalities occurred on roads (50.3 percent) or in driveways (32.4 percent), with age of the child a major influence on location.

– Driveway pedestrian fatality numbers trended more towards very young children aged one to three years, with 84 percent of fatalities involving one-year-olds, 66.7 percent of children under one and around one-third of fatalities of two-and three-year-olds being in driveways

– 87.3 percent of pedestrian fatalities involving eleven-to fourteen-year-olds occurred on the road, with numbers increasing with age and two-thirds involving children aged thirteen and fourteen years.

– Driveway fatalities remained around the same level for the nineteen-year study period and even showed a slight increasing trend from 2003 to 2019.

– Most of the child pedestrian crashes occurred because the child was in a location at the side of a road or in a driveway that made it hard for the driver to see or avoid them, or because they followed someone they knew into a hazardous location near a vehicle.

– In the majority of cases, the driver reported being unaware that the child was in a vulnerable location close to their vehicle or they became aware too late to avoid a collision.

– The most consistent factor contributing to road and driveway child pedestrian fatalities was inadequate supervision.

– With child pedestrian fatalities in driveways, indirect and ambiguous supervision of the youngest ages was a significant factor, with the presence of multiple carers often contributing to diminished supervisory attention.

Emeritus Professor Ann Williamson, of the UNSW’s Transport and Road Safety Research Centre, says that findings highlight worrying patterns to fatalities and reveal the need for immediate action to address identified safety issues.

“We need an urgent review into strategies to reduce child pedestrian fatalities,” she said.

“Improvements are needed in road designs, including signage, markings and lighting.

“Designs of vehicles should be amended to improve all around visibility, not just when reversing, especially in larger vehicles such as SUVs, which were predominantly involved in carpark and driveway fatalities.

“Driver awareness campaigns can play a key role in keeping child pedestrians safe.

“Education for parents and carers is needed about the importance of active attention and direct supervision.

“The fact that driveway fatalities involving child pedestrians remain persistently high, with no evidence of a reduction in over the study period, is justification for quick measures.”

With more vehicles on our roads as families travel over the summer break, increasing the risk of incidents, Michelle is also sounding the alarm for immediate action.

“Our aim is to prevent other children falling victim to the same tragic fate as our beautiful boy Tom.

“We don’t want other families to go through what we did,” said Michelle.

“The results of our report suggest that if direct supervision, especially involving physical contact, is maintained, child pedestrian fatalities can be avoided.

“So please, hold children’s hands around roadways and driveways.

“Older children should also be encouraged to reduce distractions, pay attention to their surroundings and, where possible, cross at pedestrian crossings or traffic lights.”

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