Safety First. How to Avoid Distractions While Driving

The Keys to Defensive Driving

Safety First. How to Avoid Distractions While Driving

As a defensive driver, you can avoid crashes and help lower your risk behind the wheel.

If you've been out on the roads, you know that not everyone drives well — but most people think they do. Some drivers speed aggressively. Others wander into another lane because they aren't paying attention. Drivers may follow too closely, make sudden turns without signaling, or weave in and traffic.

Aggressive drivers are known road hazards, causing one third of all traffic crashes. But inattentive or distracted driving is becoming more of a problem as people “multitask” by talking on the phone, texting or checking messages, eating, or even watching TV as they drive.

You can't control the actions of other drivers. But updating your defensive driving skills can help you avoid the dangers caused by other people's bad driving.

Skills That Put You in Control

Before you get behind the wheel of that two-ton frame of glass and steel, here are some tips to help you stay in control:

Stay focused.

Driving is primarily a thinking task, and you have a lot of things to think about when you're behind the wheel: road conditions, your speed and position, observing traffic laws, signs, signals, road markings, following directions, being aware of the cars around you, checking your mirrors — the list goes on. Staying focused on driving — and only driving — is critical to safe driving.

Distractions, talking on the phone or eating, make a driver less able to see potential problems and properly react to them. It's not just teen drivers who are at fault: People who have been driving for a while can get overconfident in their driving abilities and let their driving skills get sloppy. All drivers need to remind themselves to stay focused.

Stay alert. Being alert (not sleepy or under the influence) allows you to react quickly to potential problems — when the driver in the car ahead slams on the brakes at the last minute.

Obviously, alcohol or drugs (including prescription and over-the-counter drugs) affect a driver's reaction time and judgment. Driving while drowsy has the same effect and is one of the leading causes of crashes.

So rest up before your road trip.

Watch out for the other guy. Part of staying in control is being aware of other drivers and roadway users around you (and what they may suddenly do) so you're less ly to be caught off guard.

For example, if a car speeds past you on the highway but there's not much space between the car and a slow-moving truck in the same lane, it's a pretty sure bet the driver will try to pull into your lane directly in front of you.

Anticipating what another driver might do and making the appropriate adjustment helps reduce your risk.

Eight Secrets of Super Driving

When you drive defensively, you're aware and ready for whatever happens. You are cautious, yet ready to take action and not put your fate in the hands of other drivers. According to the U.S. Department of Transportation, 90% of all crashes are attributed to driver error.

Following these defensive driving tips can help reduce your risk behind the wheel:

  1. Think safety first. Avoiding aggressive and inattentive driving tendencies yourself will put you in a stronger position to deal with other people's bad driving. Leave plenty of space between you and the car in front. Always lock your doors and wear your seatbelt to protect you from being thrown from the car in a crash.
  2. Be aware of your surroundingspay attention. Check your mirrors frequently and scan conditions 20 to 30 seconds ahead of you. Keep your eyes moving. If a vehicle is showing signs of aggressive driving, slow down or pull over to avoid it. If the driver is driving so dangerously that you're worried, try to get off the roadway by turning right or taking the next exit if it's safe to do so. Also, keep an eye on pedestrians, bicyclists, and pets along the road.
  3. Do not depend on other drivers. Be considerate of others but look out for yourself. Do not assume another driver is going to move the way or allow you to merge. Assume that drivers will run through red lights or stop signs and be prepared to react. Plan your movements anticipating the worst-case scenario.
  4. Follow the 3- to 4-second rule. Since the greatest chance of a collision is in front of you, using the 3- to 4-second rule will help you establish and maintain a safe following distance and provide adequate time for you to brake to a stop if necessary. But this rule only works in normal traffic under good weather conditions. In bad weather, increase your following distance an additional second for each condition such as rain, fog, nighttime driving, or following a large truck or motorcycle.
  5. Keep your speed down. Posted speed limits apply to ideal conditions. It's your responsibility to ensure that your speed matches conditions. In addition, higher speeds make controlling your vehicle that much more difficult if things go wrong. To maintain control of your vehicle, you must control your speed.
  6. Have an escape route. In all driving situations, the best way to avoid potential dangers is to position your vehicle where you have the best chance of seeing and being seen. Having an alternate path of travel also is essential, so always leave yourself an out — a place to move your vehicle if your immediate path of travel is suddenly blocked.
  7. Separate risks. When faced with multiple risks, it's best to manage them one at a time. Your goal is to avoid having to deal with too many risks at the same time.
  8. Cut out distractions. A distraction is any activity that diverts your attention from the task of driving. Driving deserves your full attention — so stay focused on the driving task.

If you're interested in taking a defensive driving course to help sharpen your driving knowledge and skills, contact your local AAA or your state's Department of Motor Vehicles (DMV).

Many states keep a list of approved defensive driving course providers, and lots of these offer online programs. In some states, you may be eligible for insurance premium discounts, “positive” safe driving points, or other benefits.

These courses do cost money, but it's worth the investment to be a smarter, safer driver.

Safe driving!

Reviewed by: Kurt E. Gray, MSM

Date reviewed: September 2016


Distracted Driving: Causes and Prevention—It’s Not Just Your Cellphone

Safety First. How to Avoid Distractions While Driving

Distracted driving has been a matter of concern ever since the first cars rolled off the assembly line. In the early 1900s, when windshield wipers were first introduced on American cars, some worried that they would lull drivers into a daze.

In the 1930s, state legislators attempted to restrict the installation of car radios on the grounds that they could distract drivers and lead to crashes. Today, with text messages, social media notifications, and talking GPS apps, it’s no surprise that mobile devices have become synonymous with distracted driving.

Statistics show that roughly 10% of all fatal crashes involved distracted drivers. Of those distracted driving fatalities, 14% involved a cell phone. That means 86% of distracted driving fatalities didn’t involve a phone!

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), there are three main types of distractions while driving:

  1. Visual: looking away from the road
  2. Manual: activities that need you to take your hands off of the steering wheel
  3. Cognitive: thinking about things other than driving

Common Causes of Distracted Driving

The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) found that distracted driving led to the deaths of 3,450 people in 2016 and in 2015 injured 391,000 people on roads in the United States. In the vast majority of these cases, the distraction was completely avoidable. Here are the nine common distractions:

  1. Interacting with a passenger
  2. Talking on a cellphone
  3. Holding an object other than a cellphone (i.e. a pet)
  4. Talking/singing/dancing
  5. Holding a cellphone
  6. Smoking
  7. Adjusting radio/climate control
  8. Eating
  9. Other cellphone interaction

What Can You Do to Prevent Distracted Driving?

Some of these distractions can be difficult to avoid. After all, it’s not you’re going to go on a four-hour road trip and not talk to your passengers. In situations such as this, it’s helpful to find ways to mitigate the impact of distractions.

Eat first. One of the safest ways to keep yourself from becoming a distracted driver is to manage non-driving tasks before you get on the road. Eating, drinking, programming your GPS, or assisting passengers can be safer if done while parked.

Let passengers help. Passengers can be distracting. This is one of the reasons why most states passed graduated driver licensing laws restricting teens from having passengers in the car during their first year of driving. Letting your passengers help you with tasks — answering the phone or adjusting the radio —can help you remain more focused on driving.

Pull over to attend to children. If children are in the car, be sure to pull over to a safe spot before tending to their needs. Don’t turn to reach into the back seat while driving or at a stop light.

Pull over to talk. Hands-free technology  a Bluetooth headset or integrated system can still take your mind off the road. Phone conversations may impair your ability to recognize and respond to something or someone on the road—even if you’re looking at it—because your attention is elsewhere.

The safest option for you, your passengers, pedestrians, and those in other vehicles is to only use your phone when you’re not on the road.

Don’t drive drowsy. Consider the time of day you decide to drive. The NHTSA estimates 71,000 annual drowsy driving injuries. If you can avoid drowsy driving, a common safety issue late at night, you can improve the odds of arriving at your destination safely.

Take the pledge to drive distraction free. Download and print your certificate and commit to taking the safety measures necessary to avoid distractions while driving.

Apps or Products That Combat Distracted Driving

A buzz from your phone that a text, email, or social network notification is fresh and waiting can be a big temptation. Some phones and apps help you avoid distracted driving from the start by blocking notifications or limiting phone features. These features can even be used to monitor driving of a family member, such as a new teen. Here are a few top options to get started:

  1. LifeSaver – This app uses your GPS to track when you’re in motion, when you arrive at your destination, and blocks text messages and calls while you drive. It has an in-app rewards system that incentivizes safe driving. It also offers options for parents and fleet managers.
  2. DriveMode – This app gives you quick shortcuts to apps you may want to use when driving, GPS and music, while blocking other distractions. It runs on voice enabled commands and allows you to interact with apps including Google Maps, Waze, Pandora, Spotify, and more.
  3. Built-in features – Modern Android and iPhone devices all have driving features built in. Check out driving modes in your phone settings and do not disturb modes as a way to block those calls and messages from showing up.
  4. Telematics – Telematics is a technology that is available via an app on your Smartphone or a dongle that you plug in to your vehicle to monitor and provide real time feedback on your driving habits. The dongle and app both alert you to behaviors such as hard breaking, speeding, mileage, and late night driving. The app also layers in distracted driving events. This feedback can help drivers become more aware of their driving habits and improve them over time. Some insurance companies offer discounts to drivers who use Telematics technology and demonstrate favorable driving behaviors.

Also remember.

Use care when accessing in-car systems while on the road. Some systems prevent use while moving. This is one of many technologies aimed to improve your safety on the road.

Is Distraction a Young Driver’s Problem?

Experienced drivers often believe that they can manage distractions while driving better than novice drivers.

But driver distraction is present among drivers of all ages and education behind how to prevent it is imperative.

While drivers under age 20 have the highest proportion of distraction-related fatal crashes, according to the National Center for Statistics and Analysis, distracted driving dangers transcend all ages.

Of distracted driving crashes, only 9% came from people under 20 years old, according to the NCSA study. Adults 40 and above were responsible for 23% of distracted driving wrecks.

Don’t let the number of years you have behind the wheel lead you to believe that you’re immune to distraction while driving. Experience is no substitute for safe driving habits.

It is important though to communicate to your young driver about the possible distractions on the road before they get their license.

Moving Forward as Better Drivers

The technology that helps contribute to a safer driving experience is always improving. Safer driving leads to fewer claims and lower auto insurance costs. That’s a big win for any driver.

Auto manufacturers are making crash avoidance technologies, such as blind spot warning and collision avoidance systems, common in new vehicles.

In fact, back-up cameras are required to be in all new lightweight vehicles..

Traffic engineers are employing roundabouts, red light cameras and road condition warnings to make driving safer. But regardless of emerging technology, policies, and processes, there is no replacement for focused, alert driving.

If you are one of the millions of Americans stuck in a daily traffic jam, follow best practices to avoid a traffic jam fender bender. And regardless of how long you’ve been driving, stay focused on safe practices defensive driving and avoiding road rage.

“To effectively tackle the problem of distracted driving, we need a broader approach that takes into account the many and varied sources of driver distraction,” says IIHS president Adrian Lund. “Singling out cellphones may lead drivers to disregard the fact that other behaviors that divert their attention from the road are risky, too.”

Some of the biggest dangers we face on the road come from inside the cabin of our own vehicle. As all roads will have hazards, all commutes will have their share of distractions. Although these can’t always be avoided, at least the negative effects may be reduced through careful consideration and planning.

It’s the Law

Also keep in mind that distracted driving may be a criminal offense depending on the distracted driving laws in the state you live in. If a police officer catches a glimpse of you looking at your phone while on the road, they can often pull you over and issue a citation. That can lead to higher insurance premiums plus the cost of the ticket itself.

Share your story in the comments.

If you have any tips for avoiding distracted driving, please share them as well to help keep us all safer while out on the road!


Tips to Avoid Distracted Driving

Safety First. How to Avoid Distractions While Driving

Here’s a scary statistic for you… the number one cause of death in teens between the ages of 14 and 19 is car accidents. And the number one reason for the car accidents? Texting.

One study found that text messaging increased the risk of a crash or near-crash by two times. Study results also showed that activities performed when completing a phone call (reaching for a phone, looking up a contact and dialing the number) increased the chance of a crash by three times.

Distracted driving is driving while doing another activity that takes your attention away from the road. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) states that each day in the U.S, more than nine people are killed and more than 1,060 people are injured in crashes that are reported to involve a distracted driver.

Put Down the Phone

Take it from someone who rear-ended another car in college because she was texting a friend- DON’T TEXT WHILE DRIVING. It’s as simple as that. The danger from texting and driving has been compared to that of drinking and driving. It’s just not worth it. If a conversation is so important it can’t wait, pull over first.

Text messaging requires a lot of your attention- visual, manual and cognitive.  When you’re texting you are taking your eyes off the road, your hands off the wheel and your mind off of driving. That’s when accidents happen.

Besides being risky, texting while driving is against the law in all but 12 states. And when an accident occurs while a driver is texting, they are almost always deemed at fault.

Talking on the phone while driving is extremely dangerous as well. Even hands-free cell phone use involves visual and manual tasks at least half of the time, which is associated with a greater crash risk.

Other Steps to Avoid Distraction

Staying off the phone is the first step in reducing distracted driving, but there are many other factors that can distract drivers. Other distractions include reading a map, using a navigation system, eating or drinking, and applying make-up.

Here are some ways you can avoid being distracted:

Prepare for trips ahead of time. To avoid having to read a map or look at a navigator while driving, study your route ahead of time and pull over to review your plans if needed.

It can also be helpful to bring someone along with you to help navigate the road and watch for oncoming traffic. An extra set of eyes can be very beneficial.

Fuel up. No, I’m not talking about putting gas in your car… although you should do that too. I’m talking about avoiding driving hungry.

If your stomach is growling right before you’re about to hit the road, make sure to energize your body with a meal or filling snack so you aren’t tempted to eat while driving.

Munching on food requires attention that should be reserved for the road.

For lengthy trips where refueling on nourishment is necessary, stop and pull over to eat. It’s a good opportunity to stretch your legs and get some fresh air anyway.

Don’t primp and drive. Girls, I’m talking to you. We’ve all been there. You catch a glimpse of yourself in the rear-view mirror and realize your hair is a mess. Or you wake up late and decide it’s a “get ready on-the-go” kind of day.

First off, putting on mascara as a passenger in a moving vehicle is hard enough as it is. Try doing it while driving and you’re bound to either stab your eyeball or get into an accident. Or both.

It might be tempting to apply just a touch of lipstick while at a stop light, or to throw your hair up in a ponytail while cruising down a back road, using your knees to drive.

But primping while driving takes your eyes, hands and mind off the road, and if there’s anything we’ve learned from the increase in accidents associated with texting and driving it’s that operating a vehicle needs our full attention.

Safe Travels

Distracted driving is a serious issue. Too many lives have been lost because of a quick text message or phone call. But the good news is that many accidents can be prevented simply by keeping your eyes, hands and mind on operating your vehicle. Always give the road your complete attention. We want to see you make it safely to your destination. So remember these tips, and safe travels.

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Safety First—5 Best Practices for Safe Driving

Safety First. How to Avoid Distractions While Driving

Whoever said that there’s safety in numbers surely wasn’t thinking about rush hour traffic.

In fact, the best recipe for a safe drive involves few other cars on the road, zero distractions while driving, and the avoidance of dangerous driving habits altogether.

Since it’s unly that you’ll always drive in light traffic, however, steering clear of hazardous, illegal, and negligent driving behaviors as detailed below is all the more important.

Don’t Drive While Distracted

To start with, don’t read this article while driving—eyes on the road at all times, please! Distracted driving can come in many forms, many of which you may not feel are that unsafe. The truth is that any activity that diverts your attention away from the road and other drivers puts you and anyone around you at increased risk.

Do NOT Text and Drive—Not Even at Stoplights!

There have been too many news stories in recent years surrounding deadly car accidents due to texting.

Many highways now feature signs indicating pull-off sections to be used for emergency phone calls and texting sessions, so there’s no excuse for texting and driving.

On regular streets and roads, there’s almost always a gas station, fast food parking lot, or even a driveway to pull into and send your messages. In an increasing number of states, distracted driving laws even prohibit texting while at a red light.

Don’t Eat While Driving

Even if you don’t eating in public, there’s no reason that you can’t keep your vehicle in park while you chow down. Otherwise, your sustenance could cost someone his or her life—a lot can happen in the time it takes to look for one dropped French fry.

Beware of Brake Lights

Even if your eyes never leave the road, what you’re looking at matters. Don’t expect the car ahead of you to keep going just because the traffic light is green—as soon as you see brake lights come on, you should be prepared to hit your brakes, too, no matter what the circumstances are further down the road.

An Aside: Brake Checking and Road Rage in Action

You should never use your brakes to bully or try to teach other drivers a lesson. Brake checking, or pressing the brake pedal to prove a point to another driver who’s tailgating, is more than just bad behavior—it can cause an accident.

Just a few weeks ago, a woman driving in Missouri narrowly managed to survive a brake checking crash. In this case, the woman had no time to practice defensive driving due to the high speed at which she was traveling when cut off and brake checked by another driver.


Fortunately, this story is not one of a death by dangerous driving—the woman’s car hit the barrier and flipped, but other motorists pulled her from the wreckage with no serious injuries. However, this accident acts as a reminder of what’s at stake when people take out their anger via reckless driving.

Don’t Fall the Flow of Traffic or Tailgate

Maintaining a safe speed is basic Driving 101.

If all the other cars on the road are moving 10 miles per hour faster than yours, it’ll be a lot harder for you to react defensively to any sudden lane changes or maneuvers.

If you get stuck behind a slow driver, it’s in your best interest to pass that car if at all possible, but do stay within the speed limit and use your turn signals per the rules of the road.

Also, don’t engage in tailgating, or following the car in front of yours too closely, for any reason. The rule of thumb for following distance is to leave a count of three seconds or more between your car and the one in front of you, calculated by passing the same stationary roadside object, such as a streetlight. You can read all those bumper stickers when you come to a red light.

Don’t Plug Up the Passing Lane

Some drivers to think of the leftmost lane on the freeway as the speeding lane. While it’s certainly necessary on occasion to speed up to get around a slow or hazardous vehicle, that lane is only meant for passing one or two other cars at a time and emergencies. Once you’ve passed the cars that you’ve intended to, it’s time to look for an opening to move back into the right lanes.

Don’t Drive While Impaired

The most obvious type of impairment, alcohol intoxication, comes to mind first. According to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, almost a third of deaths from traffic accidents are caused by drunk drivers as of 2014.

While it may be obvious advice not to get behind the wheel after drinking a few beers, impairment comes in many other forms as well. Reasons not to drive can be as simple as having blurry vision or confusion from a new medication or medical condition. Inexperience and unpreparedness are some additional considerations among the unwritten rules of the road.

Don’t Stress

When you’re driving in an unfamiliar area, GPS maps can be very helpful. However, sometimes the directions can get confusing—for whatever reason, you’re about to miss your turn. Before that moment comes, just remember that taking a few more minutes to recalculate directions and turn around is always worth it. The alternative of a rash, last-second turn can cost a lot more.

There are, of course, many other things that you should do in order to drive safely—it doesn’t have to be all don’ts.

For instance, buckling your seat belt, maintaining your car’s airbag system, and keeping up with repairs in general are some great preventative measures to take.

If you do find yourself regularly contemplating going on a road rampage, there’s no shame in enrolling in anger management classes. It’s always okay to ask for help.


Avoid Distracted Driving: Tips to Stay Focused

Safety First. How to Avoid Distractions While Driving

Focus is key while driving. Distractions can cause even the most experienced drivers to make dangerous mistakes.

Read these tips on how to avoid distractions behind the wheel:

Secure Your Cargo

Be sure to put all of your cargo in a secure place in your car. Reaching for loose belongings is dangerous; it takes your hands off the wheel and often takes your eyes off the road. Make sure all of your belongings are firmly held in place.

Restrain Your Pet

Restrain your pet while driving. It’s important to restrict your pet’s movement to protect it from a crash or inflating airbags.

  • For dogs, consider investing in a pet seat belt, which is easy to use and works in conjunction with a normal seat belt. Keep in mind that attaching a restraining device to your dog’s collar can end up choking the pup; instead, use a harness that wraps around your dog’s chest.
  • Cats should be contained in a crate, cage or pet car seat that is secured with a seat belt. Look for a sturdy carrier with enough ventilation and plenty of room for your cat to turn around and stretch out. Also make sure you secure the carrier so that it stays safely in place in case of a collision or sudden stops.

Driving is a demanding activity that requires your full attention to many things at the same time. Do not be distracted by things not directly related to the driving task. Eliminate distractions inside the vehicle and minimize activities that require you to take your eyes off the road, especially in heavy traffic.

Here are a few rules of the road for cell phone use:

  • DO NOT send or read text messages while driving.
  • Make outgoing calls only when you are at your destination or parked.
  • Use your voicemail for incoming calls or let a passenger talk for you.
  • Put your cellphone on “silent” so that you are not tempted to answer it while driving.
  • Remember, research shows that even talking on a hands-free cellphone involves concentrating on the conversation at hand, often at the expense of the driving task.

Distracted driving laws, especially when it comes to cell phone use, vary by state. See the distracted driving laws in your state.

To reduce other distractions:

  • Pre-set your favorite radio stations.
  • Load your favorite CD before you start driving.
  • Refrain from eating, drinking and smoking.
  • Know your route before starting out, so that you do not need to consult a map or directions during the trip.
  • Set up your GPS-based navigation device and adjust the volume control.
  • Manage passenger conversation to keep it from being distracting.

Distractions play a major role in many accidents on the roadway today, and modern technology is a major source of distraction while driving. Do your part in helping keep your roads safe by keeping your whole mind on the road and avoiding distractions!

Smart drivers know how and why to avoid distractions! Want more tips for staying focused on the road? Consider taking the AARP Smart Driver™ course—AARP Driver Safety’s flagship offering and the nation’s first and largest refresher course designed specifically for older drivers. The AARP Smart Driver course is available in a classroom and online, in both English and Spanish. In some states, you may even be eligible for a multi-year insurance discount upon completion of the course.*

For more information, visit or call 1-888-AARP-NOW (1-877-846-3299).

*The insurance premium discount is not available in all states for the online or the classroom versions of the course. Please consult your insurance agent for further details.

Next: Respect roadway patterns


Ten tips to avoid distracted driving

Safety First. How to Avoid Distractions While Driving

Do you feel your life is more hectic than it was even just a few years ago? Maybe you’re eating fast food more often, constantly multi-tasking, cutting out activities you used to enjoy, and getting less sleep. If so, be warned! Sometimes the changes we make to cope with our busy lives come with negative consequences. Auto accidents are one of them.

According to DISTRACTION.GOV there are three main types of driving distractions:

Visual – taking your eyes off the road;
Manual – taking your hands off the wheel; and
Cognitive – taking your mind off the task of driving.

Driving distractions include: • Texting; • Talking on a cell phone or Smartphone; • Eating fast food;• Drinking your favorite beverage; • Shaving;• Applying makeup:• Reading; • Using a GPS; and• Changing the radio station, inserting a CD, or scrolling for music on your MP3 player.  

If you’ve ever missed your turn, don’t remember turning onto your street, or reached your destination wondering where the time went, you were distracted. For many of us, driving is the most dangerous thing we do every day. So for your safety and the safety of those around you, it’s vital to pay close attention at all times when you’re behind the wheel.

Even small increases in your attentiveness can make a positive difference. Here are some ways to do that: 1. Turn off your phone when you get in the car. 2.

Stop some place safe (and legal) to answer incoming calls and text messages, remembering many states have laws prohibiting texting while in your car. 3. Familiarize yourself with the equipment/features in your car. You should be able to turn on your wipers, heat, air conditioning, etc.

without taking your eyes off the road. If you get a new car, park it and practice finding the equipment/features with your eyes closed.4. Ask whoever is riding with you to make a call or answer a text on your behalf. 5. If you use a GPS, don’t try and enter an address or location coordinates while driving.

Also make sure audio turn-by-turn directions are on and easy to hear. 6. If you receive upsetting news or had a difficult conversation prior to driving, let yourself regain your focus and composure.7. Stop at a safe location to address back seat situations with your children. Never drive with your head in the back seat.8.

Don’t let your pets roam freely in your car. Make sure they are properly secured before you start driving.9. Don’t drive if you’re tired. Make sure you get an adequate amount of sleep each night. 

10. Don’t let your knees do the driving. Eat before you leave for your destination or stop at a safe place.

When choosing how to drive, remember your safety is important to your family, to your friends, and to West Bend!

Topics: Distracted Driving, Teen Safety

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