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Want to curb texting and driving? Turn it into a joke

An Australian train safety campaign called "Dumb Ways to Die" is winning big at this week's Cannes Advertising Festival. Might such a jokey style persuade those who cannot help texting at the wheel?

Pet rattlesnakes are very silly.
DumbWays2Die/YouTube Screenshot by Chris Matyszczyk/CNET

There's nothing worse than a senseless death.

Not that any death makes sense, of course. But it's easier to accept someone dying of sheer old age than a 16-year-old being crushed in a car because she was texting Polly about the dimples on Charlie's cheeks.

This week, advertising's loudest are meeting at the Cannes Advertising Festival. One campaign doing absurdly well is an absurdist effort from Australia that tries to stop people doing stupid things around trains.

Called "Dumb Ways to Die," it takes the silliness of how people die around trains and raises it.

To a beautifully childish tune, it offers thoughtful lyrics warning that you shouldn't use "your private parts as piranha bait."

It might also not be wise to sell both your kidneys on the Web or to scratch a drug dealer's brand new ride.

As well an enjoying almost 50 million YouTube views, accidents involving Melbourne's Metro trains were reduced by 20 percent in three months.

Moreover, USA Today reports that more than 1 million people signed a pledge that read: "I solemnly swear not to do dumb stuff around trains."

At heart, people are extremely silly and know it. We do astoundingly stupid things constantly. When we get home safely, somewhere in the depths of our craniums we're grateful that we're still alive.

Which is why I wonder whether one way to put a dent into texting and driving might be to follow a similar tack.

Most of the campaigns that have been tried featured teenagers who ended up with their heads bloodied, their friends in shock and tears all around. (I have embedded one below.)

I wonder whether texter-drivers have become somewhat immune to that sort of messaging.

Research shows that 77 percent of so-called young adults feel entirely confident about texting and driving. So you can tell them all you like that the habit makes a crash 23 times more likely, but they're unlikely to listen so easily.

Indeed, the latest available numbers suggest that texter-drivers aren't changing their behavior.

Perhaps, then, serious silliness might be needed to combat dumb ways to drive.