Driving licence in the United Kingdom

Last updated

British driving licence
UK full licence dec 2021.jpg
Example of a driving licence issued in Great Britain after December 2021.
TypeDriving licence
Issued byFlag of the United Kingdom.svg  United Kingdom
PurposeAuthorisation
CostProvisional:

£34/£43 (online/postal) (GB), £62.50 (Northern Ireland)

Contents

Renewal:

£14/£17 (online/postal) (GB), £30 (Northern Ireland)

In the United Kingdom, a driving licence is the official document which authorises its holder to operate motor vehicles on highways and other public roads. It is administered in England, Scotland and Wales by the Driver and Vehicle Licensing Agency (DVLA) and in Northern Ireland by the Driver & Vehicle Agency (DVA). A driving licence is required in England, Scotland, and Wales for any person (except the sovereign) driving a vehicle on any highway or other "road", as defined in s.192 Road Traffic Act 1988, [1] irrespective of the ownership of the land over which the road passes. Similar requirements apply in Northern Ireland under the Road Traffic (Northern Ireland) Order 1981.

Prior to the UK leaving the European Union on 31 January 2020 and during the transition period which ended on 31 December 2020, a UK driving licence was a European driving licence, [2] adhering to Directive 2006/126/EC and valid throughout the European Economic Area. A new updated design has been issued from January 2021, now simply reading “UK” in larger blue letters, where the EU flag with the circle of stars surrounding the "UK" code used to be. [3] [4]

Since July 2015, all UK driving licence photocards issued by the DVLA have displayed the Union Jack flag, and since December 2021 [5] also the Royal Coat of Arms on the front of the driving licence. This does not apply to driving licences issued by the DVA in Northern Ireland. [6]

As UK nationals do not normally have identity cards, a photographic driving licence can serve many of the purposes of an identity card in non-driving contexts, such as proof of identity (e.g. when opening a bank account) or of age (e.g. when buying age-restricted goods such as alcohol or tobacco).

Regulations

Provisional licences and learner drivers

Applications for a provisional driving licence can be made in Great Britain from the age of 15 years and 9 months and in Northern Ireland from 16 years and 10 months. Once a United Kingdom driving test has been passed, the driving licence is valid for driving a moped or light quad bike from age 16, and a car from age 17, or 16 for those who receive, or have applied for, the higher or enhanced rate of the mobility component of PIP or DLA. [7] [8] A driving test consists of three sections: theory, hazard perception and a driving examination. Until this test has been passed, a driver may hold only a provisional licence [9] and is subject to certain conditions.

Example of a provisional driving licence issued in Great Britain after December 2021. UK provisional driving licence dec 2021.jpg
Example of a provisional driving licence issued in Great Britain after December 2021.


The conditions attached to provisional licences for a particular category of vehicle are: [10]

Lplate.svg
L plate
Dplate.svg
D plate (Wales)
Learner driver plates in the UK.
R plate that must be displayed by restricted drivers in Northern Ireland. R plate - Northern Ireland.svg
R plate that must be displayed by restricted drivers in Northern Ireland.

In Northern Ireland, learner drivers are limited to a speed of 45 mph (72 km/h) and are not permitted on motorways regardless of whether or not they are under instruction by an ADI (Approved Driving Instructor), and drivers who have passed their test within the previous year must display R plates (restricted) and are also limited to a maximum speed of 45 mph (72 km/h) until the expiry of the restricted period. R plates are similar in style to L plates, with a thick-set dark orange R displayed on a white background and most L plates have the orange R on the reverse side. [13]

After passing a driving test, the provisional licence may be surrendered within two years in exchange for a full UK licence [9] for the relevant kind of vehicle. Full car licences allow use of mopeds and motorcycles provided a CBT (Compulsory Basic Training) course is completed (the requirement to have a CBT in Northern Ireland was introduced on 21 February 2011). [14]

Newly qualified drivers

There are currently no restrictions on newly qualified drivers in England, Wales or Scotland; however if a newly qualified driver receives six penalty points within two years of passing, the licence is automatically revoked and the driver must pass the full test again; this also applies in Northern Ireland. [15] These six points remain on the new licence until their designated expiry time. [16]

In Northern Ireland, new drivers must display orange "R" plates for 1 year after passing the test, and are limited to a maximum speed of 45 mph (72 km/h).

In the Isle of Man (a UK Crown dependency), new drivers must display "R" plates similar to those in Northern Ireland, but red, for 1 year after passing the test, and are limited to a maximum speed of 50 mph (80 km/h).

Towing restrictions

The rules on what a driver can tow are different depending on when they passed their driving test. If they passed their car driving test on or after 1 January 1997, they may drive a car or van up to 3,500 kg (7,700 lb) maximum authorised mass (MAM) towing a trailer of up to 750 kg (1,650 lb)MAM, and they may tow a trailer over 750 kg (1,650 lb)MAM as long as the combined MAM of the trailer and towing vehicle is no more than 3,500 kg (7,700 lb)MAM when loaded. They must pass the car and trailer driving test to tow anything heavier. If a driver passed their car test before 1 January 1997, they are usually allowed to drive a vehicle and trailer combination up to 8,250 kg (18,190 lb)MAM. They are also allowed to drive a minibus with a trailer over 750 kg (1,650 lb)MAM. [17]

On 16 September 2021, the Secretary of State for Transport laid a statutory instrument [18] to retrospectively grant the B+E (car and trailer) entitlement to all category B licence holders. From 15 November 2021, all standard car licence holders will be able to tow a trailer with a MAM of up to 3,500 kg (7,700 lb). An additional legislative change from the 16th December 2021 also means that drivers with B (Car) entitlement will automatically have B+E (Car & Trailer) entitlement without the need to take a B+E test. This will allow you to tow a vehicle up to 3,500kg Maximum Authorised Mass (MAM).

Other regulations

Motor car licences issued in the United Kingdom distinguish between automatic and manual transmission vehicles, depending on whether or not a driving test was passed in a vehicle with manual transmission (unless a vehicle test was taken in the UK before such distinction was made). While a manual transmission vehicle licence permits the holder to drive a vehicle of either kind, an automatic transmission vehicle licence is solely for vehicles with automatic transmission. The licence also shows whether a driver requires glasses or contact lenses to meet the legal driving requirements, if known.

Drivers who obtained rights to drive category D1 minibuses before 1997 (by passing a test for the obsolete class A) must not drive such vehicles for hire or reward, nor accept any form of payment in money, goods or kind from any passengers carried.

There is no maximum age for driving or holding a driving licence, but holders must renew their licences at age 70 and every three years thereafter, at which times they must self-certify their continued fitness to drive. [19]

History

Driver registration was introduced in 1903 with the Motor Car Act. Holders of the sulphur-yellow coloured document were entitled to "drive a motor car or motor cycle". [20] The wording was changed in 1930 after which holders were allowed to "drive or steer a motor car or to drive a motor cycle". Shortly afterwards, the document cover was changed to a dark red colour. Holders were for a period entitled to drive a vehicle of "any class or description". [20] Subsequent changes saw the document list precisely those vehicle types for which holders were licensed.

Competency tests were introduced by the Motor Vehicles Regulations 1935 applicable to all drivers who started driving after 1 April 1934. Competency tests were suspended in 1939 for seven years due to the Second World War and in 1956 for one year due to the Suez Crisis. The only person in the United Kingdom who is not required to have a driving licence in order to drive is the King. [21] [22]

Until 1973, driving licences (and tax discs) were issued by local authorities and had to be renewed every three years. In 1971, the decision was taken to computerise the licensing system to enable it to be linked to the Police National Computer and to extend the life of the licence up to the driver's 70th birthday, extendable at intervals thereafter provided the driver can prove fitness.

Except for Northern Ireland, driving licences issued before July 1998 did not have photographs on them. [23] Anyone who holds a licence issued before this date may retain their photo-less licence until expiry (normally one's seventieth birthday) or until they change address, whichever comes sooner. The new plastic photocard driving licences have to be renewed every ten years, for a fee. Until 2015, the licence consisted of both the photocard and a paper counterpart which detailed the individual's driving entitlements and convictions ("endorsements"). The counterpart was abolished on 8 June 2015 [24] and the information formerly recorded on it is now available online via the View Driving Licence service, except in Northern Ireland where the counterpart must be kept with the photocard. [25]

Licences issued to residents of England, Northern Ireland and Scotland appear only in English, while those issued to residents of Wales appear in both English and Welsh. The Union Jack Flag has been included on GB licences since July 2015, but not on Northern Ireland licences. [26] Since December 2021 the Royal Coat of Arms is included on GB licences. [5]

British driving licences followed the same format as this German licence until the transition period ended. DE Licence 2013 Front.jpg
British driving licences followed the same format as this German licence until the transition period ended.

Up until 28 September 2021, the distinguishing sign of the United Kingdom was "GB". [27] The allocation of codes is maintained by the United Nations Economic Commission for Europe, authorised by the UN's Geneva Convention on Road Traffic [28] and the Vienna Convention on Road Traffic. [29] The UK is party to both conventions, and shall hence issue licences in conformity with the conventions. Annex 9 of the Geneva convention states that the distinguishing sign (UK) shall be inscribed in an oval. According to the Vienna convention Article 43 domestic licences have to comply with Annex 6, which says that driving licences shall include the name and/or the distinguishing sign of the country which issued the permit. UK licences did include the "GB" distinguishing code until 1990. [30]

Example of a driving licence issued in Great Britain between January 2021 and December 2021. Ukfulldrivinglicence.png
Example of a driving licence issued in Great Britain between January 2021 and December 2021.

In Directive 91/439/EEC which EU Member States had to implement before 1 July 1994, the UK had to include the emblem of the EU with the code "UK", [31] instead of "GB" encircled by an ellipse on the front page. As the UK has subsequently withdrawn from the EU, the EU flag is no longer featured on UK driving licences issued after the transition period ended on 31 December 2020. [32] The "GB" code or the ellipse from the aforementioned conventions have not been reintroduced, since January 2021, the licences simply reads “UK" in larger blue letters where the EU flag with the circle of stars surrounding the "UK" code used to be. [3] [4]

On 30 June 2021 the United Nations published a notification stating that the United Kingdom had given three months notification that it intended to change its distinguishing sign from "GB" to "UK". This came into effect on 28 September 2021. [33]

Since December 2021, new driving licence styles were introduced. Changes were made to all versions of the GB driving licence cards and includes: [5]

Driver numbers

Each licence holder in England, Scotland and Wales has a unique driver number, which is 16 characters long. The characters are constructed in the following way: [34]

Each Northern Ireland licence holder has a unique driver number which is 8 characters long. The characters are not constructed in any particular pattern.

Brexit

The EEA (blue and green) European Economic Area member states.svg
The EEA (blue and green)

The UK left the EU on 31 January 2020, starting an 11-month transition period which terminated on 31 December 2020 in accordance with the Brexit withdrawal agreement. [2] EU law continued to apply to the UK during the transition period, and hence UK driving licences were valid in the EEA and vice versa until 31 December 2020. UK licence holders living in the EU were advised to exchange their UK driving licence for a local one before the transition period ended. [36] [37] [38] The EU flag was removed from UK driving licences when the transition period ended. [3] [32]

From 1 January 2021, with some exceptions, UK licence holders can use their driving licence when visiting EEA countries. [39] [40] International Driving Permits might be needed in some cases, and depending on which convention the country in question has ratified, a 1949 Geneva Convention on Road Traffic IDP might be required in some countries, and a 1968 Vienna Convention on Road Traffic IDP in others. However, none of the EEA countries currently require IDPs for visitors staying shorter than 12 months. [38] EEA countries are no longer obligated to recognise or exchange UK licences if the holder moves to an EEA country, except if the UK has agreed a bilateral agreement with the country. [41]

European driving licences are recognised by the UK if the driving test was passed in an EU/EEA country, and can be used both if the holder is visiting or residing in the country. They can also be exchanged for a UK (both GB and NI) licence. [42] [43]

Driving licence categories

Current categories

This is a list of the categories that might be found on a driving licence in the United Kingdom. [44]

CategoryVehicle typeMinimum ageNotes [Notes 1]
AMMopeds162-wheeled or 3-wheeled vehicles with a maximum design speed of over 15.5 mph (25 km/h) but not more than 28 mph (45 km/h).

This category also includes light quadricycles with an unladen mass of not more than 350 kg (not including batteries if it is an electric vehicle) and a maximum design speed of over 15.5 mph (25 km/h) but not more than 28 mph (45 km/h).

Electrically propelled pedal cycles (with 2 or 3 wheels) are exempt from the requirement for a licence provided they conform to the EPAC rules, although there is a minimum age of 14. Such vehicles must be equipped with pedals by means of which the vehicle is capable of being propelled. If there are no pedals, then a moped licence is required. [Notes 2] Electrically assisted scooters are considered to be electrically assisted only if they conform to certain additional EPAC rules, otherwise a licence is required. [45]

PMopeds16Motor vehicles with fewer than 4 wheels with a maximum design speed of over 28 mph (45 km/h) but not more than 31 mph (50 km/h). The vehicle's engine size must not be more than 50cc if powered by an internal combustion engine.
QMopeds16Motor vehicles with fewer than 4 wheels which, if propelled by an internal combustion engine, have a cylinder capacity not exceeding 50 cc and, if not equipped with pedals by means of which the vehicle is capable of being propelled, have a maximum design speed not exceeding 15.5 mph (25 km/h).
A1Motorcycles17Light motorbicycles with an engine size up to 125 cc, a power output of up to 11 kW (14.75 hp), and a power to weight ratio not more than 0.1 kW/kg (136.2 hp/ton). This category also includes motor tricycles with power output up to 15 kW (20.1 hp).

A practical training without exam is needed for B licence holders (Compulsory Basic Training).

A2Motorcycles19Motorbicycles in category A1, as well as motorbicycles with a power output up to 35 kW (46.9 hp) and power to weight ratio not more than 0.2 kW/kg (272.5 hp/ton). The motorcycle must also not be derived from a vehicle of more than double its power. [46]
AMotorcycles24 [Notes 3] Motorcycles in categories A1 and A2, as well as motorcycles with a power output more than 35 kW (46.9 hp) or a power to weight ratio more than 0.2 kW/kg (272.5 hp/ton) and motor tricycles with a power output more than 15 kW (20.1 hp).

B licence holders who are at least 21 years of age are allowed to drive motor tricycles, including three-wheeled motorcycles with a power exceeding 15 kilowatts (20 hp).

B1Light vehicles and quadricycles17 [Notes 4] Motor vehicles with 4 wheels up to 400 kg unladen, or 550 kg if they are designed for carrying goods.
BCars17 [Notes 5] Full licence obtained before 1 January 1997:
  • A vehicle and trailer combination up to 8,250 kg maximum authorised mass (MAM).
  • A minibus with a trailer over 750 kg MAM.

Full licence obtained after 31 December 1996:

  • Vehicles up to 3,500 kg MAM with up to 8 passenger seats (with a trailer up to 750 kg). Also covers heavier trailers if the total MAM of the vehicle and trailer is not more than 3,500 kg.
  • Motor tricycles with a power output higher than 15 kW if driver is over 21 years old.
  • Physically disabled drivers with provisional category B entitlement will also have provisional entitlement to ride category A1 or A motor tricycles. Able-bodied drivers can no longer ride motor tricycles with a provisional category B licence.
B autoCars17 [Notes 4] Same as Category B, but only automatic transmission.
BECars17 [Notes 6] A vehicle with a MAM of 3,500 kg with a trailer. The size of the trailer depends on the BE 'valid from' date shown on the licence. If the date is before 19 January 2013, the vehicle can tow any size trailer. If the date is on or after 19 January 2013, the vehicle can tow a trailer with a MAM of up to 3,500 kg.

From 15 November 2021, BE will be granted to all category B licence holders. No category BE tests will take place after 20 September 2021. [47]

C1Medium-sized vehicles18 [Notes 7] Vehicles between 3,500 and 7,500 kg MAM (with a trailer up to 750 kg).
C1EMedium-sized vehicles21 [Notes 8] C1 category vehicles with a trailer over 750 kg. The combined MAM of both cannot exceed 12,000 kg.
CLarge vehicles18 [Notes 9] Vehicles over 7,500 kg (with a trailer up to 750 kg MAM).
CELarge vehicles18 [Notes 9] Category C vehicles with a trailer over 750 kg.
D1Minibuses21 [Notes 10] Vehicles with no more than 16 passenger seats, a maximum length of 8 metres, and a trailer up to 750 kg. See also Category B.
D1EMinibuses18 [Notes 10] D1 category vehicles with a trailer over 750 kg MAM. The combined MAM of both cannot exceed 12,000 kg.
DBuses18 [Notes 10] Any bus with more than 8 passenger seats (with a trailer up to 750 kg MAM).
DEBuses18 [Notes 10] D category vehicles with a trailer over 750 kg.
FAgricultural tractor16Maximum weight with trailer = 24 390 kg. Age 16 for tractors less than 2.45m wide. It must only pull trailers less than 2.45 m (96 in) wide with two wheels, or four close-coupled.
GRoad roller18 [Notes 11]
HTracked vehicles18 [Notes 12]
KMowing machine or pedestrian-controlled vehicle16
LElectrically-propelled vehicle17Category now deprecated – tests no longer available (since 2001) for this category. Vehicles now classified by the appropriate group above.
MTrolley vehicles
NExempt from dutyNormally as per group if not exemptCategory now deprecated (since 2001). This category was reserved for vehicles driven for a government department. Neither the issue of the licence nor the testing were carried out by the normal licensing authorities. Each department issued the licence to drive (which was similar in appearance to the pre-1973 dark red licence except that it was light blue in colour). This separate licence was proof that the driver had the proper permission to drive an official vehicle (which was neither insured nor taxed). A prerequisite to passing a driving test (and being granted the licence) for this category was that the driver held a normal full licence appropriate for the type of vehicle being driven (military use excepted). The minimum ages for driving were the same as for the normal licence, except that two types of vehicle (motor-cycles and cars displaying military number plates) could be driven at 16 years of age by a serving member (not a civilian employee) on behalf of one of the armed services.

The category was abandoned because all government departments now hire or lease their vehicles from regular suppliers. The armed services also lease standard civilian-supplied vehicles, with only specialist military vehicles being 'owned' by the Crown.

Notes
  1. MAM = Maximum authorised mass
  2. Many users of self stabilising electrically propelled vehicles believe that they are exempt from licensing if they are solely used on the pavement. As they do not feature pedals for propulsion, they require a licence to drive, though nearly all are illegal on the public highway as they are incapable of passing a vehicle test (no braking system among other reasons).
  3. Age 24 or 2 years from date of A2 test pass.
  4. 1 2 At age 16, a licence may be issued if the licensee is in receipt of the higher rate of disability living allowance. However, if the rate is withdrawn, the normal minimum age for driving a car (17 years) applies.
  5. At age 16, a licence may be issued if the licensee is in receipt of the higher rate of disability living allowance. However if the rate is withdrawn, the normal minimum age for driving a car (17 years) applies.
  6. If the driver has passed their category B or B automatic test before 1 January 1997, their licence will already show C1, C1E (8.25 tonnes), D1, D1E (not for hire or reward) as entitlement flowing from the category B.
  7. Age 17 if the driver is a member of the armed services
  8. Age 17 if the driver is a member of the armed services; Age 18 if they got their driving licence before 10 September 2009 and the weight of the vehicle and trailer together is under 7,500 kg; Age 18 under certain other circumstances
  9. 1 2 Age 17 if the driver is a member of the armed services; Age 18 under certain other circumstances
  10. 1 2 3 4 Age 17 if the driver is a member of the armed services; Age 18 having passed a passenger carrying vehicle (PCV) test before 10 September 2008 and driving under a authorised operator's licence (O-licence), or minibus permit, or community bus permit and under certain conditions; Age 18 under certain other circumstances; Age 20 after passing a PCV driving test and Driver Certificate of Professional Competence (DCPC) initial qualification
  11. Age 17 for small road-rollers with metal or hard rollers. They must not be steam powered, weigh more than 11.69  tonnes or be made for carrying loads
  12. Age 17 if the Maximum Authorised Mass of the tracked vehicle doesn't exceed 3,500 kg

Obsolete goods classes

Although the category system was changed over 25 years ago (1 January 1997), the freight industry and driver recruitment agencies still predominantly use the obsolete class numbers for the entitlement of HGV drivers.

The two systems are not exactly compatible, so the descriptions given are only a guideline.

Points and endorsements

The UK uses a cumulative points system for driving offences. Points are added for driving offences by law courts or where the driver accepts a fixed penalty in lieu of prosecution, and the licence is endorsed accordingly. A UK driving licence may be endorsed for various offences, not only for those committed while driving or in charge of a vehicle. [48] If the individual committing the offence does not hold a valid driver's licence the endorsements may be put by until a licence is held.

Most endorsements remain valid for four years; some (such as driving under the influence) are recorded on the licence for 11 years because more severe penalties apply to those convicted twice within 10 years of drink or drug driving offences.

Twelve points on the licence within three years makes the driver liable to disqualification under the "totting-up" procedure; however this is not automatic and must be decided on by a court of law. [49] [50] Endorsements remain on the licence for one year longer than their validity (three or ten years) because a court can consider points awarded even though they are not valid for 'totting up'.

Driving licence codes

Certain codes are included on driving licences to indicate restrictions on use. These codes are listed on the back of the card under the column headed "12. Codes" and are listed for each category that is licensed.

As long as the UK remained within the EU, the codes 1–99 were the same as in the rest of the EU, harmonized by Directive 2006/126/EC.

The codes and their meanings are as follows: [51]

Use as proof of identity

Identity cards for UK nationals were introduced in 2009 on a voluntary basis, and the attempt to introduce a nationwide identity-card scheme in 2010 was reversed mid-course. Its in-progress database was halted and then destroyed. [52] Only workers in certain high-security professions, such as airport workers, were required to have an identity card in 2009, and this remains the case today. Therefore, driving licences, particularly the photocard driving licence introduced in 1998, along with passports, are the most widely used ID documents in the United Kingdom. Most people do not carry their passports with them; this leaves driving licences as the only valid form of ID to be presented. In day-to-day life there is no legal requirement to carry identification whilst driving or otherwise, and most authorities do not arbitrarily ask for identification from individuals.

Non-professional drivers are not legally obliged to carry a driving licence while driving, but section 164 of the Road Traffic Act 1998 [53] allows a police officer to require a driver to produce a driving licence within seven days at a police station chosen by the driver. The form which was once issued in such circumstances, the HO/RT 1, was known colloquially as "a producer", as exemplified in Smiley Culture's hit single "Police Officer". [54]

Exchange agreements

The UK has an exchange agreement with 22 'designated' countries/regions [55] which allows the holder of a foreign driving licence who is deemed to be resident in the UK to exchange it for a British licence. Initially, there were 18 such countries/regions, but an additional four, namely Taiwan, the United Arab Emirates, Ukraine and the Republic of North Macedonia, were added from 20 May 2021. [56] To do such licence exchange, the holder must send the licence, a translation thereof if required, an application form and a fee to the DVLA or DVA (for Northern Ireland).

Post-Brexit arrangements

The UK and Ireland have signed a bilateral agreement, allowing those holding a UK driving licence and living in Ireland to continue to be able to swap it for an Irish licence after the Brexit transition period ended on 31 December 2020. [57] [58]

The UK and Norway have agreed to continue existing arrangements on mutual recognition of driving licences after Brexit. [59] [60] [61]

See also

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In South Africa, the driving licence is the official document which authorises the holder to drive a motor vehicle on a public road. Driving licences are issued by authorised driving licence testing centres, which are run by the municipalities under the supervision of the provincial and national Departments of Transport. Since 1998, the driving licence has been issued in a "credit card format"; before then it was included in the holder's national identity document. The minimum age to hold a licence is 18. Apply for a driving licence | South African with the exception of Code A1 for which the minimum age is 16.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Driver's license</span> Document allowing one to drive a motorized vehicle

A driver's license is a legal authorization, or the official document confirming such an authorization, for a specific individual to operate one or more types of motorized vehicles—such as motorcycles, cars, trucks, or buses—on a public road. Such licenses are often plastic and the size of a credit card.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Driving licence in Spain</span>

In Spain the driving licence is a governmental right given to those who request a licence for any of the categories they desire. It is required for every type of motorized vehicle. The minimum age to obtain a driving licence is: 16 years for a motorcycle, 18 years for a car, and 21 years for buses and cargo vehicles.

In the Republic of Lebanon, a driving licence is the official document which authorises its holder to operate various types of motor vehicles on highways and some other roads to which the public have access and are issued by each individual district.

Vehicle weight is a measurement of wheeled motor vehicles; either an actual measured weight of the vehicle under defined conditions or a gross weight rating for its weight carrying capacity.

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