TD95: 4 Reasons That Trucker Might Be Tailgating You

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Trucker Tailgating

We’ve all seen it: A car in the fast lane with a semi truck so close to its rear bumper that it looks like a Saint Bernard is getting ready to get jiggy with a Chihuahua. Or a car creeping along in the slow lane with a rear-view mirror full of truck grill. What possesses a trucker to tailgate a car like that? Well let’s step back a second and look at that. But first, let’s examine what tailgating actually is. Not just trucker tailgating… anybody tailgating.

For those of you in third-world countries who have yet to discover the wheel, let me explain this concept. Tailgating is when one vehicle is close to another vehicle’s rear bumper. But the question becomes, how close is too close? I think that really depends on the individual. Some drivers might not mind a truck following them at one truck length, while another thinks they can detect diesel fumes breathing down their neck at that distance. Someone else thinks that a 2 or 3 second following distance is okay. Maybe it depends on the type of vehicle you’re driving too? I know I’d probably be more nervous being tailgated by a trucker if I were crammed into a new Fiat than if I was man-handling the road in a 1-ton F-350 pickup.

And then there are the folks who think that all trucks should have a 6-7 second following distance. For the record, this is what most trucking companies and safety organizations recommend. Now I’m not trying to say that a 3-4 second following distance is safer than a 6-7 second distance, but have you ever actually tried to follow someone at 6-7 seconds? It’s a loooooong stinkin’ distance.

If you want to get an idea of your following distance, here’s how to do it.

  1. Pick out a vehicle that’s ahead of you in traffic.
  2. When they pass a landmark, e.g. an underpass, a billboard, railroad tracks, etc; start counting off the seconds.
  3. Stop counting when you reach that landmark.
  4. Look at your raised fingers and count them (oh c’mon – you know you were doing it). That’s how many seconds following distance you have.

Now I’d be willing to bet that the number you come up with will be far less than you think it’ll be. If so, then the next time pick a vehicle even farther ahead and try it again. For a real challenge, try not to use your fingers when counting this time. Yes, it’s possible. And hey, did you know you can read silently without moving your lips. It’s true. Okay. Did you find a car that was 6-7 seconds ahead of you? I told you. That’s a long friggin’ way from that other car’s rear bumper, isn’t it?

I’ve been arguing since way back in driving school that a 6-7 second distance isn’t even possible at times.

Seriously. I got into a discussion with the lady that taught defensive driving at my truck driving school. We had just moved back from Dallas and I remember The Evil Overlord and I laughing when the teacher said we should leave a 6-7 second following distance. I asked her if she’d ever driven in Dallas. I said, “As soon as you open up a spot between you and the car in front of you, someone jumps into it and you’re back where you started.” She responded by saying that a trucker should go 5 mph slower when in traffic, that way as soon as the passing car gets in front of you, they’ll open up a 6-7 second following distance faster. What she neglected to take into account is the fact that the passing car isn’t the only car on the road, so the gap behind them fills up too. And perhaps even more importantly, since when has going slower than the flow of traffic ever been a safe practice?

So what to do? Well, as every trucker has learned, driving school is one thing; real life is something altogether different. The fact is that there are times when a trucker needs to tailgate. Let’s take a look at that. So in no particular order, I present to you the four reasons that a trucker might be tailgating you.

Trucker Tailgating Reason #1: Drivers Going Under the Speed Limit

I know this might be a shock to some of you 4-wheeler drivers, but even the truckers who love their job don’t do it for giggles; they do it to get paid. And the vast majority of us over-the-roaders don’t even get paid unless we’re moving down the road. So when some safety-conscious do-gooder decides to go under the speed limit, well you’re affecting our paychecks.

Listen, I understand that you fantasize about dropping your boss into a pit full of pissed-off scorpions, and therefore, you’re not in any rush to get to work. I can also understand that you missed taking advantage of the Cash For Clunkers program by one stinkin’ day and your car may have trouble reaching the speed limit. If that’s the case, that piece-o-crap shouldn’t be on the road. In either case, you’re holding up progress.

My feeling on this is that if you’re going slower than the speed limit and you don’t have a dang good excuse for it, you deserve to be tailgated. I’ve got crap to do, appointments to be made, and an Evil Overlord to appease come payday. So when I get closer to your bumper than you’re comfortable with, you can fix that by getting the heck out of my way. Understood, Gordon Lightfoot?

Trucker Tailgating Reason #2: Wishy-Washy Drivers

For us truckers, the only thing more frustrating than a slow driver is a driver who can’t make up their dad-blamed mind. And as any trucker can attest to, this goes for truckers as well as 4-wheelers. Listen, we drive these heavy suckers for a living, so we understand that a truck can’t always maintain a steady speed. But in my ever-so-humble, but totally awesome opinion, this should only be happening in hilly terrain. A fully-loaded big rig can weigh up to 80,000 pounds (even more with the right permits), therefore, even the slightest change in the slope of the road can cause massive fluctuations in speeds.

But what’s your excuse when you’re on flat ground? I can tell you that about 90% of the time when I see a car or a truck varying their speed, it’s because they’re on the cell phone. Well, I guess I should say that’s 90% of the vehicles I actually manage to get around. I honestly don’t get to see the culprit for the vast majority of fickle-footed drivers. That’s because they eventually notice me riding their bumper and they wake up long enough to pull their head out of their ass…ssassins Creed cap and hit the gas pedal. While that is frustrating, at least they’re out of my way. And you know how much I like for people to be out of my way. (Sorry, but only my podcast listeners are going to get that little joke.)

As you can see, the first two reasons truckers tailgate are simply to bring the driver back to reality so they can hopefully start paying attention to their driving. The third reason, however, is a direct result of the first two.

Trucker Tailgating Reason #3: Preparing To Pass

If it weren’t for you folks out there with gaspedalaphobia, there’d be no need for a #3 on this list. But since you do exist (much to the chagrin of all society, including your mom), this gives us truckers another reason to tailgate. For you brainiacs out there who haven’t thought of this, a truck takes a lot longer to get up to speed than a car does. When a car wants to pass another vehicle, they just mash the gas pedal to the floor and they’re around a 70-foot truck in less time than it takes Sheldon to knock 30,000 times on Penny’s door while wearing his Flash Gordon costume. But when the roles are reversed, it’s a major ordeal for the trucker.

I remember way back in the summer of ’84 when my high school driver education instructor, appropriately-named Mr. Lane, taught me how to pass. Even in a car, he told me to get right up behind the slower driver, or in other terms, tailgate him. When the coast was clear, he said, Step on it!” Well, I put my foot down, but I wasn’t aware of that “passing gear” mode past what I thought was “all the way to the floor.” Thankfully, there was just enough time for me to figure it out while he yelled at me. Now let’s look at doing this in a truck.

We use reason #3 and we tailgate the speed-challenged car. Sorry, but if that didn’t happen, we’d never get around anyone. Next, we wait for an open spot big enough that even Superman couldn’t see an oncoming vehicle and then we mash on it… and we pretty much get nothing. It takes a long time to get these heavy suckers up to speed. Downshifting helps, but isn’t always effective when you’re going 60 mph. At least it isn’t in my run-of-the-mill 10-speed company truck. The best case scenario is that the slower driver doesn’t feel like dying, so they back out of it and lessen the time we’re required to be out in the other lane. Thankfully, this usually happens. But I’ll bet I’m not the only trucker who’s had to back out of it and duck back behind to escape a game of chicken because of some stubborn, trucker-hating jerk.

And of course, remember that it isn’t always a 15-foot long car we’re passing. Other times it’s another 70-foot long truck. There are certain carriers out there that you see from a distance and you know you’re gonna have to pass them eventually. Once again, we have to get right up on their bumper to set up the pass. I like to use their shiny trailer doors to check my teeth for spinach chunks while I’m waiting for an opening to pass. Once clear, you launch your attack and pray for a cooperative trucker. For more on the challenges of speed-limited trucks trying to pass each other, check out one of my favorite blog posts I’ve written called TD66: Truckers Go Turtle Racing.

I should also point out that tailgating to set up a pass is necessary whether you’re on a 4-lane freeway or a 2-lane country road. On the 2-lane, you need to close the gap for time’s sake. On the 4-lane, you want to avoid jumping out and slowing down traffic while you’re still three truck-lengths back. Because if you do that, you can almost guarantee some Fast-and-Furious wannabe will come screaming around you on the right and attempt to squeeze back in front of you. And by the way, if you’ve ever done this, please reach into your silverware drawer, grab a fork, and jab it in your forehead. Thanks.

Trucker Tailgating Reason #4: The Trucker is a Jerk

There is no getting around admitting this. Just like the few truckers who refuse to shower give us all a bad rap, there are also a few chronic tailgaters. These are the drivers who are tailgating a car, despite the fact that the car is going 75 mph in the fast lane. Yes, Mr. Studmuffin Trucker, it’s nice that you can bury your speedometer needle past your 100 mph gauge. Yes, we can see how fearless and skillful you are because you can ride 5 feet off some unfortunate dude’s bumper. I’m sooooo impressed.

So what I want to know is why these truckers do this? You see, when I use the word “tailgating,” I’m talking about following at two or three car lengths… for a brief period of time. The way I see it is no trucker has any reason to be close enough to a car that you can’t see the entire vehicle above your hood. Even that’s too close at highway speeds. And I’ve seen some of these miscreants stay that close until they’re out of my vision. Uncool, man. Uncool.

So why exactly are you pushing that car down the road? What’s your excuse? Your load is late? Is your load of pickles really so important that you’re willing to put people at risk? Is there some kind of pregnancy convention going on that will cause mass water-breakage if you don’t show up on time? Sorry, driver. I’m gonna need more convincing. What’s that? The guy flipped you the bird earlier? Well clearly you can quell his road rage by tailgating him and raising his stress level. Brilliant, Sherlock, just brilliant. Just try to remember this when you’re tailgating so close: if he taps his brakes and you hit him because you can’t see his taillights, you may just be in jail soon. And if that happens, I for one hope that it’s your turn to get tailgated.

So there you have it, four reasons for a trucker to be tailgating you. What do you think? Are these legitimate reasons to be tailgating (well #1-3 anyway)? Or do you think there’s ever a good excuse to tailgate? Don’t be stingy. Share your thoughts below.

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22 Responses to TD95: 4 Reasons That Trucker Might Be Tailgating You

  1. Candace June 30, 2013 at 8:50 PM #

    Argh…I hate those tailgaters who do it for no good reason other than they just like to do it…or they think you might speed up if they do it (which unfortunately I’m governed at 64 so no going faster than that). I did end up in a tailgate situation the other night approaching a toll booth though. This white work van comes screaming up to the side of me and behind a truck in their lane and ducks over right in front of me and decides to make a quick slow down. Yep…I ended up on his ass. I backed off and he did it again (while the guy in the backseat is looking out the back with a huge ass smile on his face…oh sure bud…it’s gonna be real funny until your grin is eating my grill). And of course is stop-and-go traffic jams. I will be on someone’s ass then too…no chance of me hitting them at that pace…and it keeps the sudden lane-shifts from ducking in front me forcing me to slam on my brakes to avoid hitting them (don’t get me wrong…I will let people in front of me who don’t feel the need to be jackasses about it). And then there’s the jerk truck drivers who do it and i look back and it looks like I’m pulling doubles. Ah…life on the road eh?

    • Todd McCann July 1, 2013 at 8:39 PM #

      Thanks for writing in, Candace. Yep, life on the road is swell all right. Putting up with the idiots is just another part of the job. It’s amazing how many people think it’s funny when they cut off a truck. Like you say, if that van had misjudged just a tad bit, they would’ve been having grill soup for dinner. I’m like you. The nicer the car next to me, the more likely he is to be offered a spot in front of me. Be careful getting too close in traffic jams though. If your foots slips off the clutch, you could find your front bumper lodged on someone’s rear spoiler. And you wouldn’t want to do that. We all know how aerodynamically important a spoiler is to a Pontiac Sunfire. 😉

      • Candace July 1, 2013 at 11:10 PM #

        Ah well I’m not close enough that I can’t even see the top of their car (which my ex is famous for doing in his huge ass Western Star). But I won’t leave enough room for some idiot to dart in front of me because they are in such a hurry to gain that extra foot.

  2. Kevin McKague July 2, 2013 at 11:44 AM #

    A lot of people simply never look at their rear view mirrors. In addition to the slow 4-wheelers in the fast lane, I often see people who don’t even notice the quickly approaching ambulance with the lights flashing!

    • Todd McCann July 10, 2013 at 8:19 PM #

      Yep, I’ve seen that too. Obviously, those flashing lights aren’t bright enough. *eye roll*

  3. Justin July 14, 2013 at 9:07 AM #

    I hate being locked at 65mph and catching people on a 70+ interstate. If you cant afford to go 70+ get a new job. Cant wait to be owner operator so i can at least just pass them

    • Todd McCann July 16, 2013 at 3:28 PM #

      I’m confused, Justin. When you say “If you can’t afford to go 70+ get a new job,” what does that mean? I work for one of the best-paying companies out here and my truck only goes 64-65 mph. Are you saying that the companies should bump their speed up to 70+, even if the insurance companies will give them better rates for limiting their trucks to 65 mph? Or what about the fuel savings by going slower? That adds up to big money when you’re dealing with thousands of trucks. Now, I think the “safety” argument is a crock of crap, but it’s hard to deny the cost savings of cheaper insurance and fuel costs.

      Having said that, I understand your pain with being speed-limited. But have you noticed that there are an awful lot of owner-operators out here that are guilty of going 62 mph? I know I pass plenty of them. They’re doing this because of fuel prices. I read somewhere that an O/O can gross $10,000 more per year if they slow down. So maybe you’ll just pass the slow guys once you’re an O/O. Or it may just be that you are one of the slow guys once you’re paying the fuel bill. Either way, good luck with going owner/operator!

  4. John July 17, 2013 at 3:44 PM #

    So just to be clear your excuse to tailgate if someone is not driving the speed limit is because they need a new job or better vehicle etc. Seems to me people like you are the jackasses. I take it you have no idea that most RV’s ie travel trailers and 5ver’s have ST tires that are rated at 65mph and are just bombs waiting to go off when driving at sustained speeds over that for example they are derated 10% in load for every 10mph over the 65mph rating. So the next time you get on someones arse that is hauling an RV maybe think about giving them a break and stay off their ass. I know when I see a semi wanting to get by I will do everything I can to help like slowing down after they commit to pass and have changed lanes. So just who are the jerks?

    • Todd McCann July 17, 2013 at 5:22 PM #

      First off John, thanks for writing in with your thoughts. I figured there’d be someone out there who would disagree with my reasons for tailgating. You’re the first (of probably many). LOL

      So let’s get one thing clear. First off, when I was speaking of cars that weren’t capable of going the speed limit, that was largely tongue-in-cheek. I mean, how often is a vehicle truly incapable of doing the speed limit? Even a piece of crap can usually go 65-70 mph.

      Like I said in the article, if you’ve got a legitimate reason for going slow (pulling a trailer, teetering pickup bed full of junk, mechanical issues, etc.) Then I’ll just go around you if I can. If I’m following this slow-poke on a two-lane road, I’ll back off until I see an opportunity to pass. Then I creep up behind you. Either way, I’m setting up a pass, which is my reason #3 for tailgating.

      As for the truckers, I’m not saying they need to get a new job where they can drive faster trucks. If someone likes working for a trucking company with 60 mph trucks, more power to them. What I am saying is that those of us with slower, speed-regulated trucks need to go out of our way to not be a problem. Sounds like you and I do that on a regular basis. We rock like that. I said as much in TD66: Truckers Go Turtle Racing.

      As for the RV tire ratings, I doubt most people know about that. You talk like everyone should have knowledge of all tire specs. If you’ve never driven an RV how would you know that? Do you know the tire ratings and specs on a combine? A backhoe? A 1-ton pickup? So while I do know that tires have speed ratings, I did not know that RV tires have such low ratings. Seems kinda screwy to me. Why not just manufacture the tires to handle the legal speed limits?

      The thing is, this knowledge isn’t going to change the way I drive. If someone is going under the speed limit or varying their speed for no apparent reason, me getting 2-3 car lengths behind them (my definition of tailgating) for a brief time is usually the wake up call they need to realize they need to pay attention to their driving. And let’s be honest, 9 times out of 10, that does the trick. And just like I said in TD66: Truckers Go Turtle Racing, if I can’t get around them for whatever reason, I just drop back, set my cruise a bit slower, and pray they just slammed a 64 oz iced tea and will need the next exit. If that makes me a jerk, then I guess I need to change my Twitter handle to @ToddTheJerk.

      Thanks again for leaving a comment, John. Differing opinions are always welcome if it can be done without a bunch of name-calling. Hey wait… jackass… jerk… Hmmmm. Just joshing, man. LOL 😉

  5. David Ross September 4, 2013 at 12:22 PM #

    I hate people tailgating me and I try my best not to do it myself.

    As a four wheeler, if I see a trucker starting to tailgate I try to speed up, although being in the people’s republic of California with it’s stupid truck speed of 55, this doesn’t happen too often.

    On a slightly different topic, I want to tell all of you of the best driving habit there is: don’t let your eyes stay still. Believe it or not, I learned this from my grandmother who never drove a day in her life! She noticed the bus drivers are always scanning from looking ahead to the mirrors, and to the dashboard. Lather, rinse, repeat.

    now where is episode 96?

  6. Chris October 8, 2013 at 1:27 PM #

    I noticed another thing while driving cross country in my car… When I turn into the passing lane using my turn signal and I’m approaching two or more trucks in the right lane, sometimes one pulls out into the left lane to pass another truck. I noticed that if I don’t let off and stay at least 1.5 to 2 full truck lengths behind that passing truck he lets off the gas and takes up to 5 minutes to pass the truck on the right. So I started giving them that space and they passed the other truck within a minute or less most of the time unless they were going up a big hill obviously. In the beginning it would piss me off and my natural reaction was to tailgate them in the passing lane which accomplished absolutely nothing. I have a Class A CDL with Hazmat which I’ve kept up to date since getting my CDL back in 2007, but I haven’t driven for a company because I got a good paying, but stressful traveling sales job right out of trucking school, but I am a great driver who still drives over 70k miles a year, never having been in a accident or gotten any kind of ticket other than a parking and inspection ticket (EVER)… knock on wood. I respect all the truck drivers out there unlike so many other drivers unfortunately. I am thinking about driving OTR in the near future because I’m 34, single with no kids and I love being alone and driving long distances. As long as the driver is paying attention, I don’t mind anyone tailgating me. If they hit me, it’s automatically their fault anyway, but I always move over if someone comes up on me in the passing lane and I only use that lane to pass myself unlike so many other idiots on the road. I always use my turn signal, even to turn into my driveway at 3 AM with nobody around. Why risk an $80.00-$100.00+ ticket and points on your license for literally not moving your finger 2″ to click your turn signal is beyond me? I hate when people don’t signal and I really hate when a professional trucker doesn’t signal which I see every so often. But most of the time they do signal. Okay, that’s all 🙂 Thanks for the great article.
    -Chris

    • Todd McCann October 12, 2013 at 10:34 PM #

      Hey Chris! Thanks for dropping in and leaving your thoughts. Sounds like you’re an excellent driver. Since you drive a car, I suppose the only explanation is that your got your CDL a while back. LOL Just kidding. I know there are lots of good automobile drivers out there. It’s just that the few idiots make a bad name for all of you. Kinda like us truckers!

      From your description of yourself, it sounds like you’d make an excellent trucker. Single, no kids, and loves to be alone. The only problem I see is that “good paying sales job” you spoke of. As you probably already know, trucking doesn’t pay all that well (especially when you’re first starting out), so you better think hard before making the jump. But if after you’re done thinking, you still want to join the trucking ranks; then come on out! We’ll save you a truck.

  7. Chib April 21, 2015 at 8:03 PM #

    I believe you whenyou say that truckers are in it for the money. That’s why I start dropping my speed when one tailgates me. I’m not going to slam on my brakes, but I’d also rather gamble on being rear-ended at a slower speed. Not much better, but it’s still better.

    By the way, what makes you think that you’re the only one who needs to fulfill a schedule? People aren’t driving down the interstate to hang around. They have to get to work too, but traffic moves a lot slower than it would because everyone has to dance around those freaking truckers. Then a trucker inevitably crashes/dumps their load all over the road and shuts everything down for miles.

    FYI, if you want to pass a slow moving car, try using those blinking lights on the side of your truck/trailer instead of tailgating. Tailgating doesn’t make you go faster and it doesn’t help you pass. Unless you’ve already killed someone you’re still going to be going the same speed…

    Oh, and if you don’t want cars cutting into your 6-7 second gap then don’t take up the left lanes. It’s easier/safer for trucks if they’re in the center lane and it’s easier/safer for me if I ride my motorcycle down the sidewalk.

  8. jack May 15, 2016 at 5:49 AM #

    There is never a good reason for tailgating, not even when the driver ahead of you is under the speed limit. That’s your problem, not theirs. Don’t try to rationalise stupidity, tailgating is stupid. The closer you get, the slower I will go. First for my own safety, and second for yours since you are too numb minded to figure it out yourself. If you are not getting your pay check because you are a few minutes late to a destination that is a problem between your terrible employer and yourself. Find a another job. Don’t make excuses. Don’t take it out on other road users. Keep your distance, don’t be an idiot.

    • Todd McCann May 25, 2016 at 3:04 PM #

      No Jack, it really isn’t my problem. If you (or me, for that matter) is impeding traffic, it’s not everyone else’s problem. It’s our problem. For whatever reason, these other people are in a bigger hurry than I am. Why should we hold them up? Personally, my main goal as a driver is to not impede traffic. If it’s going to take me a while to get around the vehicle in front of me, I wait until there is a large gap in traffic if at all possible. And if someone is tailgating me, I don’t get pissed, I get out of the way.

      How about this Jack? How about every driver pay attention to how they’re driving and there wouldn’t be much tailgating. How would you feel if every trucker adopted your way of thinking? “Well, I’m going the speed I want to go, so I’ll just slow down because that car is tailgating me.” How happy would you be about that?

      I think we should take a lesson from the Germans here. I repeat, don’t be a hinderance to someone else’s progress. If someone wants to get around you, get out of the stinkin’ way and let them get on down the road! That’s what I do every day. It really bugs me when some pompous jerk thinks he has every right to hold everyone up. Yes, you may be doing the speed limit, but that doesn’t give you or anyone else the right to hold up traffic to “force” others to be legal.

      As for your statement, “The closer you get, the slower I will go. First for my own safety, and second for yours since you are too numb minded to figure it out yourself.” Well, Jack, I’m pretty sure I’m not the numb minded one here. Tell me, how exactly does slowing down so you’re actually closer to the tailgater, make you more safe? Wouldn’t the safe move be to put some separation between you and the tailgater? Even better, switch to a different lane altogether and the tailgater will be off your radar faster than a Stealth fighter. That’s the safer options. Last time I checked, the further apart two vehicles are, the less likely they are to collide. Yes? Or have the laws of physics changed recently?

      Sure, it sucks that some drivers (car or semi) get five feet from your bumper just because they’re in a hurry. As I pointed out in the article, that’s not the kind of tailgating I do. I get just close enough for you to take notice of me and figure out what you’re doing wrong. If you don’t like that, well, tough noogies I guess.

      • calvin March 23, 2017 at 11:06 PM #

        I drive truck. I also know what its like to drive in my car around truckers. Half of truckers are pricks. I try my best to be safe and curtious around other drivers. I just dont tailgate. Original poster is a borderline agressive driver. Todd do the dam speed limit then everything is good!!!

      • Roger Bacon June 27, 2017 at 1:51 AM #

        Because you are a dick, and going to do it at any speed, so better to ease off till you finally go around so you can go bang a hooker 15 seconds sooner today.

  9. Caressa December 24, 2016 at 8:56 PM #

    I understand your points.. however, there is no excuse for tailgating. ESPECIALLY in the slow lane. I do not have to drive 70 mph. Speed limit means you should not go over that, not that you must drive at that minimum. The legal speed minimum is usually 40 or 50 on the highway. If I’m going 60 or 65 in the far right lane and a driver decides to tailgate me, the driver is simply a jerk.

    Tailgating is rude, and it’s dangerous.
    Semis are the worst, because death is more likely if there is an accident.

    Anyway… Merry Christmas 🙂

  10. calvin March 23, 2017 at 11:15 PM #

    Yes tailgating is rude and dangerous at anytime. Todd is an asshole. He is trying to justify his aressive driving.

  11. Roger Bacon June 27, 2017 at 1:53 AM #

    Why do truckers tailgate in the slow lane, esp. when taking an exit? I assume most tailgating truckers, esp in fast trucks, are just steering-wheel-holders used to console games.

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