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Posts about Enforcement


Parking ticket notifications are useful, but slow

The DC Department of Motor Vehicles has a system where drivers can register to get email notifications if their car gets a ticket. While useful, it could be far better if the lag time weren't so long.

Photo by John M on Flickr.

You can register for the service here, but only if your car has received a ticket within the last 18 months. The DMV says it's "to ensure confidentiality of data." Once you register, if your car gets a ticket, you'll get an email with the horribly bureaucratic subject line, "Citation Issuance Alert." That can occasionally come the day after you get a ticket, or many days later.

For example, this spring I just forgot to get my car inspected when it was supposed to be. I got a $50 ticket for doing so, which I totally deserved, and then went and got it inspected as soon as I could. On May 17, I got a ticket, and received the email the day after, on May 18.

It was extra helpful to have this system, because the ticket actually wasn't on the windshield. I have no idea what happened to it, but I wouldn't have known about it but for the email.

However, what's less great is that this was actually my second ticket for the offense. I also got one on May 16, as my car was parked for a few days. That notification only showed up on May 24. Had I known about the May 16 ticket before I got the May 17 one, I would have gone to get the inspection sooner, or temporarily moved my car off the street until I could get the inspection.

You could say, well, you broke the law, so you deserve the tickets. Sure, and that's why I paid them. But our objective with parking tickets should be to get people to comply with the law, not to maximize ticket writing.

In this case, people need to get their cars inspected. One ticket probably is enough to get people to comply. Writing two tickets on adjacent days, when the car owner isn't even aware of the infraction in between, doesn't achieve any real objective.

There are almost surely valid technical hurdles to faster notification. The tickets have to go through a few steps to get from the DPW ticket writers to the DMV computers. (Representatives from DPW and DMV did not reply to a request from last week for more information about what causes the delays.) However, these are almost surely surmountable, though perhaps at a cost. DMV ticket writers already have machines that communicate with a central database to find out whether the driver of a car at a parking meter is using ParkMobile to pay for parking, rather than the physical meter, for instance.

The same goes for speed tickets. I've heard from people who got multiple tickets before receiving the first in the mail. Since we really want people to drive slower, not get a lot of tickets, it would be much more effective to tell speeders very quickly that they've broken a law.

At last year's task force on camera tickets, DMV and MPD officials said it was difficult to give people a "grace period" or make fines higher for subsequent speeding tickets, because of the lag times involved. But that shouldn't mean we can't reduce the delay.

In a sense, we should think of every ticket as a failure. Just as our goal for crime is to have none of it, rather than to have more and just assess a lot of fines, so should a long-term goal be to reduce the numbers of tickets while increasing compliance. Faster notifications could be one way of getting there.


Orange jumps on anti-camera bandwagon

Freshman Congressman Kerry Bentivolio (R-MI) wants to use Congress' power over DC to ban red light and speed cameras. On Friday, at-large DC Councilmember Vincent Orange said he wants to take action, instead of Congress, to place a moratorium on cameras and other restrictions.

Photo by a simple bag on Flickr.

In his letter to Bentivolio, Orange referred to "problems" with the camera system, but didn't specify what problems. The only evident rationale is the widespread attitude among many elected officials and residents, that speeding is really not a problem and is not a law we need to enforce.

Camera opponents have repeatedly lamented the way camera revenue helps shore up DC's budget. However, Chairman Phil Mendelson actually just made a budget change to weaken the link between cameras and a balanced budget. Instead of making the objection to cameras go away, that may have given Orange an opening to block enforcement.

When cameras aren't about revenue, that's when they get cut?

In the final budget, Council Chairman Phil Mendelson rearranged the way camera revenues factor into the budget. Instead of the money going toward the general fund, Mendelson replaced it with revenue from an Internet sales tax, in the event that Congress lets DC and states tax Internet sales.

Mary Cheh and Jim Graham had hoped to use the sales tax money to fight homelessness. Mendelson used it to remove any budget dependency on cameras. The camera money would instead go into a pot for Metro long-term improvements like 8-car trains and connecting walkways.

Mendelson stated that his reason was to ensure that any changes the council might want to make to cameras has no "fiscal impact"; that it doesn't unbalance the budget. Orange's bill would cause a big budget hole, and DC can't pass bills which unbalance the budget. If the Internet sales tax comes in, however, Mendelson's maneuver would free Orange's bill of this problem.

The big loser would be that Metro money, but since that's in the future and the details are still fuzzy, the council can raid that with impunity. So while having camera revenue plug holes in the budget is not ideal, it kept members like Orange and Mendelson from putting their own lead feet over neighborhood needs. With the barrier gone, so is that obstacle to a bill like Orange's.

Scarcely was the ink dry on the budget before Orange took that next step to block any new enforcement, even where residents have been clamoring for slower speeds and less red light running in their neighborhoods.

Speeding is one of the few laws many people just don't want enforced

Orange said he was going to introduce his bill at the next legislative session, but is announcing now to try to let the council excuse speeding before Congress can. The bill would place a 2-year moratorium on any new cameras, require DC to place signs before each camera, and justify the safety basis for each location.

That last part, which just demands reports on the safety impact of each camera, isn't so terrible, but largely duplicates a budget amendment David Grosso (at-large) already added this year.

In response to the news, Benjamin Cooper tweeted, "guess someone got a ticket." Indeed, it would be fascinating to find out if Bentivolio received a ticket recently.

This is the fundamental problem facing pedestrian safety in DC neighborhoods. A lot of people don't believe speeding in residential areas, even 10 mph over the limit, is a big deal. Most of us who drive do it. But the consequences can be grave.

Lawmakers show little interest in excusing unlawful action in other realms. They don't seek to put limits on the police's ability to stop drivers and search for marijuana, guns, or stolen goods. This despite the fact that studies show black drivers are far more likely to get pulled over and searched than white ones.

Maybe that's because speeding is one crime where the lawmakers see themselves in the role of the hurried driver and far less often as the senior trying to cross a wide street on foot. All other consternation, like about the program serving as a revenue stream, rings quite hollow, especially since the amount of complaining only rose after DC lowered fines last year.

Sure, it would be nice if the counterargument that it's "just about revenue" didn't exist, but in fact, the revenue has prevented lawmakers from deleting cameras before. Ironically, the moment camera revenue and the budget get (at least provisionally) split up, alleviating arguments that DC is dependent on the revenue, that's the very time lawmakers start taking steps to block the government from curbing dangerous driving behavior.


Tom Sherwood defends speed cameras

WAMU Politics Hour co-host, NBC 4 reporter, and Dream City co-author Tom Sherwood defended the District's speed camera enforcement program during a brief exchange with host Kojo Nnamdi on last Friday's show.

Photo by mdmarkus66 on Flickr.

Sherwood said he felt "irritated" by the May 29 Washington Post article by Ashley Halsey III on speed cameras. That story led off with the fact that one camera in the K Street underpass below Washington Circle wrote $8.1 million in tickets in 7 months.

The story did not talk about the effect of speeding on residents of Foggy Bottom, including seniors and families, or people walking to or from GW hospital, Sherwood said. From the Politics Hour transcript:

Kojo Nnamdi: Speaking of crowds, there seem to be a lot of crowds driving down K Street Northwest at rapid speeds or going through traffic lights because one camera on K Street Northwest has brought in more than $8 million into the District of Columbia's coffers during the course of the current fiscal year.

There was a camera on New York Avenue that used to come in first, but apparently, that has been surpassed by the camera on K Street. But we have to say that the District of Columbia government said, "This is not about the revenue. This is not about the money. This is about controlling traffic. The money means nothing to us."

Tom Sherwood: You know, I hear the skepticism in your voice. I hear the derision, the...

Kojo Nnamdi: Nothing.

Tom Sherwood: Well, let me say this, that's—the Post story—I was irritated by the Post story. I think there's a story there about how the city is doing camera money, but to say that the city is getting a windfall from that one camera, ... [crosstalk deleted]

I was irritated the way other people play this story. On that K Street, the 2200 block or whatever it is, the cameras there, about 32,000 cars, vehicles go through there each day. The camera gives out about 300 tickets. Now, just math-wise, I think that's maybe 1 percent of the cars. The amount of money the city gets from ticket revenue is one-half of 1 percent of the city's entire budget.

And the Post story also didn't point out that since the city has been using speed cameras because citizens who live there, there's a hospital over there, there are senior citizens, there are families with children, they don't want those commuters rushing to get up onto the freeway going over into Virginia or in coming back. Since 2001, fatalities on the streets of the city from vehicular accidents has dropped 76 percent in part, Chief Lanier says, because we have speed cameras. Now, I can go on, but I think the point is made. There's ...

Kojo Nnamdi: Mayor Sherwood has spoken.

Tom Sherwood: So, yes, you know, if—I don't know that 25 miles an hour is the right speed limit for that tunnel. I think probably it sounds low. But if you move it up to 30 or 35, then you can only write a ticket for someone going 45, and then you're getting up close to 50. So, anyway, that's the issue. It's more than just the city taking in money. It's not raking in money. It's not squeezing people unfairly. No one says the cameras don't operate correctly. And as Chief Lanier always says, you can't get a ticket if you're not speeding.

[Crosstalk deleted]

Kojo Nnamdi: It's just that to the average person, $8 million does seem like a lot of money. But moving on...

Tom Sherwood: Maybe.


Cyclists are special and do have their own rules

Sarah Goodyear of the Atlantic has an article for Bike to Work Week entitled "Cyclists Aren't 'Special', and They Shouldn't Play by Their Own Rules." The thesis seems to be that now that cycling is mainstream, cyclists need to behave better.

Photo by Richard Masoner / Cyclelicious on Flickr.

I would argue that whether or not cycling is mainstream you need to ride safely and courteously. In fact, an increase or decrease in cycling mode share shouldn't change the way you ride one iota.

Goodyear is asking cyclists to become footdroppers and thinks that more enforcement of cycling laws is what is needed for cycling to "get to the next level." I disagree which is easy to do since Goodyear offers no evidence, no data and no defense of her position. It appears to be 100% emotion-based opinion.

When I look at great cycling cities in Europe it doesn't appear to me that there is some point where increased enforcement is needed to keep growth going. Growth is fueled by better designed streets, laws that protect cyclists, and increasing the costs of driving. If anything, what I've read about Amsterdam and Copenhagen is that they don't tolerate the kinds of bad driving that are considered normal here. I don't read about ticketing blitzes.

She makes the point that many cyclists are rude or ride dangerously and that she'd like to see such behavior ticketed. I have no problem with ticketing dangerous behavior - though if we're really going to focus on the MOST dangerous behavior, that will rarely mean ticketing cyclists. And if law enforcement were to blitz cyclsits, it would likely not be for their most dangerous behavior (riding at night without lights or too fast on the sidewalk or against traffic) but rather not coming to a complete stop at a stop sign during a charity ride or at some out-of-the way intersection.

Writing about wrong-way cycling she adds,

It makes all of us look terrible and it's a real hazard. Same goes for blowing through a stop sign or red light, or blocking the crosswalk when you're impatiently waiting for the light to change. Not to mention shouting at pedestrians to get out of the way when they are crossing legally. I saw someone yell at an old lady the other day.
I again assert that few cyclists actually "blow through" stop signs and lights. Yes, cyclists run them - even Goodyear - but not blowing through them.

She sees herself as an ambassador. But does anyone see themselves as a pedestrian ambassador when walking or as a driving ambassador when driving? No. Biking is not foreign, and maybe to "get to the next level" we need to stop presenting it as though it is. It is funny that she sees it this way, that she has to behave hyper-legally and as a role model only to follow it up with.

You're going to have to give up your identity as a special person who does some special activity known as cycling.

You're not so special any longer.

Ok, if I'm not so special any longer, then how come I have to behave differently - squeaky clean - than everyone else?

I agree that cyclists should be safe and courteous (because I think EVERYONE should be), but not that they need to be hyper-legal in the hope that it will soothe everyone else. Because it won't. And it won't take cycling to the next level.

What will help is changing the law where it currently doesn't make sense, such as with the Idaho Stop - exactly the kind of "Special Treatment" and "own rules" that Goodyear seems to be arguing against. What will help is treating cycling as special by creating special facilities to help them get around - like bi-directional cycletracks on one-way streets or cycle-tracks. What will help is bike sharing, on street bike parking, unique zoning regulations related to bike parking, special commuter benefits for bike commuters, etc...

We're going to have to treat cyclists better and let them play by their own rules if we want to "get ot the next level."

Is it fair if bikers get benefits when motorists don't? Nope. You know what else isn't fair? Everything. Deal with it.

Cross-posted at the WashCycle.


Pedestrian "sting" finds frequent driver lawlessness

So many drivers don't yield to pedestrians that catching them is "like shooting fish in a barrel," a surprised Montgomery County police officer remarked Wednesday. The police ticketed 72 violators in 2½ hours—one every two minutes—at a single crosswalk on Veirs Mill Road.

Photo by Montgomery County police.

The operation, a first for the county, was advertised as a sting. But it was not very covert. The police announced in advance that their plainclothes officers would ticket between 11 am and 3 pm while wearing brightly-colored outfits.

Capt. Thomas Didone, head of the police traffic enforcement division, explained the reasoning behind the "sting" to the Patch. "Officers would typically attempt to enforce that kind of law by driving around a high-traffic area and looking for drivers not following the rules," he said. "That's not very efficient."

Inefficiency is the least of the problems with this style of law enforcement. Police who drive all day don't understand the reality of walking on the county's roadways. When you get out of the squad car and join the thousands who cross Veirs Mill every day (it's among the county's busiest bus corridors), you suddenly learn that "it's kind of scary."

All of this raises the question: in an increasingly urbanized county, where is the cop on the beat? Downtown Bethesda throngs with people on weekend evenings, and the police sit in parked squad cars behind rolled-up windows. If they were on foot, they would have plenty to do—especially in the late evening when drivers often zoom through the emptying streets.

Foot patrols succeeded in calming downtown Silver Spring after a series of brawls in 2010. But they ended once the brawls went away.

Street fighting is hardly Montgomery County's biggest law enforcement problem. Driver violations of pedestrian rights are ubiquitous, and they do far more harm. There are as many pedestrian deaths per year in the county as homicides.

Where people walk, we need police on foot. Not just on a few not-so-secret "stings"—Capt. Didone said these operations will continue only through the end of the month—and not just in response to occasional outbreaks of crime.

Police should be walking every day, in Aspen Hill and Germantown as well as Bethesda and Silver Spring, protecting the rights of pedestrians as a routine element of law enforcement. Drivers need to understand that they can be ticketed any time they break the law, not just between 11:00 and 3:00 during the month of May.


A driver ran a red light, hit me, and fled

On Wednesday, a driver on Massachusetts Avenue hit me while making an illegal and dangerous turn onto 9th Street NW. I was bicycling east on Massachusetts Avenue, waiting to cross 9th Street on the south side crosswalk. The driver fled the scene.

The intersection. Photo by thisisbossi on Flickr.

I travel this area frequently, and know this is a dangerous intersection because it includes a right red arrow to allow pedestrians to cross 9th Street safely even while other through lanes get a green light. Many drivers nevertheless illegally turn right when the light turns green for people continuing straight.

I have asked the District Department of Transportation (DDOT) and Metropolitan Police Department (MPD) on multiple occasions to add enforcement here, but have never witnessed any.

I have seen this behavior numerous times before at this spot, so I am ready for it. However, this time the first car, a black Chevy Suburban waiting to turn right, remained stopped. But the driver second in line could not stand for this, changed lanes to the left, then drove around the Suburban to make the right turn.

I saw this coming from the corner of my field of vision, but it was too late. The driver cut in front of me, clipping my front tire with the rear corner of his car. It was a grazing blow, but enough to knock me off the bike.

The driver left the scene, never bothering to stop. Fortunately, my spill was fairly minor and I was able to continue to Union Station with little injury. However, if I had been a few seconds faster, I would have been more squarely in his path and would likely be in the hospital.

Without enforcement, lawlessness runs rampant

There was no police officer to witness the incident. Police can't be be everywhere and catch everything. However, I've also seen MPD simply ignore dangerous infractions by drivers, cyclists, and pedestrians occurring directly in front of them.

Last weekend, while riding in the 15th Street cycletrack, a driver illegally turned left against the protected left turn signal at 15th and U Street NW, right behind my wife and me. By coincidence, a MPD patrol unit was directly behind this illegally turning driver but did nothing.

On the same trip, my wife and I witnessed two illegal U-turns on Pennsylvania Avenue right in front of police cars and officers stationed along the street for the marathon. At the time, there were lots of pedestrians and cyclists around but they refused to enforce against illegal driving right in front of them.

This is even more frustrating because this episode occurred during the regional Street Smart campaign, an annual campaign to raise safety awareness and increase enforcement. Mayor Vincent Gray stood with MPD Chief Cathy Lanier to announce DC's part of the program a week ago, alongside advocacy groups such as WABA. The Pennsylvania Avenue cycle track was supposed to be an area targeted for enforcement during this campaign.

Drivers are not the only problem. Cyclists and pedestrians also contribute when they ride down one-way bike lanes in the wrong direction, run out in front of cyclists and drivers without bothering to look, and more.

The roads, bike lanes, and sidewalks all function as a transportation system and users interact with this system according to a set of laws. When these laws go unenforced for long periods of time it creates a broken system of lawlessness.

Mayor Vincent Gray has called for a 25% mode share for walking and cycling by 2032. To reach this goal, sustained and consistent traffic enforcement will become pivotal. The city doesn't need any more public safety campaigns, advertisements, lip service, and promises. We need


Who's blocking L Street today, and what can we do?

Who's blocking the L Street bike lane today? A delivery driver, most likely. That's the conclusion I've reached after 4 months of chronicling obstructions in the city's newest bike lane.

Photos by the author.

I started the blog, "Who's Blocking the L St. Bike Lane Today?" on a whim after the lane (technically a cycle track) opened. Since then, readers have submitted a steady stream of pictures showing vehicles blocking the lane, on top of the pictures I've taken myself.

While I do use the lane frequently (and thus have a personal stake in it being unobstructed), I don't view this as an exercise in vigilantism. My goal is to highlight larger trends, not to shame or mock individual drivers.

While swerving around a parked car into moving traffic on a bike can be dangerous, I realize there are many greater evils in the world and on the road, and am weary of perpetuating the perception of, broadly, the hysterically entitled cyclist by fixating on what is a ultimately a minor inconvenience in most instances. That said, the L Street bike lane is supposed to facilitate bicycling, not parking, and blocking the lane is, at least nominally, illegal. When the lane is blocked, it doesn't serve its purpose.

Who IS blocking the L Street bike lane today?

Overall, very few people actually "park" in the L St. bike lane. The majority of vehicles blocking the lane are delivery trucks supplying the many offices and stores that line the stretch. Looking just at the 156 photos on the site to date, 60% have been of delivery vehicles, while 30% are personal vehicles, and 10% belong to police.

Based on my observations, the median length of time for vehicles blocking the lane is 1-3 minutes. That's long enough to run in to a building, drop something off, and return. However, it's not uncommon for a delivery driver to treat the lane as a loading dock for loading and unloading large shipments, a process which generally takes 10-20 minutes.

Obviously, this is not a comprehensive sample. Because I took many of the pictures, they tend to over-represent weekday, daytime activity, and concentrate on the 1700 block of L. Still, they should provide some insight into the patterns of usage that have developed so far along the lane, as well as a starting point for potential solutions.

What can we do?

Deliveries, and delivery vehicles, are an increasing necessity in today's economy, and accommodating their activity will be an ongoing challenge as cities continue to densify and pursue more multi-modal streetscapes. This is especially true in central business districts like the Golden Triangle, where businesses and office workers (myself included) rely on quick and affordable deliveries engendered by the online economy.

While it may be tempting to vilify the individual delivery drivers, many of whom work long hours under tight deadlines, as you veer around them on your bike, doing so ignores the larger enforcement, policy and design pressures that shape the situation on L Street.

Enforcement: Willfully running a solid red light is universally taboo in America, and a pressure that is strong enough to dissuade drivers from doing it. Today the societal taboo is clearly not as strong against blocking bike lanes, but targeted enforcement can help change perceptions.

In all of my observation I have only seen one ticket issued to someone blocking a bike lane. Indeed, police cars are often guilty of the offense themselves, and not while on official business. Most of the photos I've taken myself of police cars blocking the bike lanes have occurred while the driver was visiting Robeks, a fruit smoothie store on the block.

Just as the MPD has engaged in enforcement campaigns targeted at drivers who fail to yield and pedestrian inattention, we need an enforcement campaign aimed at bike lane blocking on L Street.

Even though the actual penalties may not serve as a deterrent (many delivery companies simply write them off as a cost of doing business), an enforcement campaign can start to change attitudes about the practice and encourage delivery drivers to use dedicated loading zones or the service alleys that connect many larger buildings on L Street.

Design: The blocking problem is not nearly so great on the 15th Street cycle track. This may partly result from there being fewer blocks where the lane runs past commercial streets. Also on 15th, parking serves as a buffer between the 15th Street lane and the active roadway. Not only does that offer an alternative for delivery drivers and others, it creates a physical barrier of parked vehicles, impeding easy access in a way that the plastic pylons cannot.

Before the L Street Lane was installed, Mike Goodno, Bicycle Program Specialist at the District Department of Transportation (DDOT) said that a similar arrangement would not be possible on L, as it would limit the street to one through lane outside rush hour.

One option could be to relocate the current parking from the south side to the north side, between the bike lane and the active roadway. Currently, parking and loading is permitted in the southernmost lane outside of rush hour; during rush our, the lane becomes a third through lane, though obstructions in this lane often remain throughout rush hour, leaving two effective through lanes in most cases.

Goodno says that is a possibility, and in fact DDOT is planning to have (full-time) parking next to the forthcoming lane on many blocks of M Street. However, Goodno noted, there could not be parking next to the left turn lanes, or for some distance before the start of the "mixing zones," where drivers merge into the bike lane to turn left. That would substantially reduce the amount of parking on L Street.

Alternatively, DDOT has floated the idea of installing a curb along the L St. lane to prevent vehicle incursions, though so far there has been no activity. Likewise, Goodno said they are considering adding more posts, which today appear every 20 feet.

Policy: Most blocks of L Street now combine some dedicated loading zones and short-term metered parking along the south side of the street. In my observation, the loading zones are nearly always occupied with delivery vehicles, suggesting that drivers are willing to use them provided they can find a space. Likewise, the metered parking on the street is consistently occupied as well, typically by passenger vehicles.

The difference, of course, is that those drivers have the option of parking off-street in one of the numerous commercial garages in the area, while delivery vehicles cannot. Though it would almost certainly draw criticism from some quarters, the city could convert existing metered parking along L Street to loading-only lanes, giving delivery drivers more legal options to park. If and when performance parking comes to the Golden Triangle, it could also ensure that spaces are more likely open for delivery drivers.

My experience watching the L Street bike lane has not revealed an existential struggle amongst warring factions for turf on one of downtowns busiest arteries. Rather, I've seen drivers, bikers, delivery guys, cops, and pedestrians (who, lest we forget, are often one in the same) working to coexist in a new multi-modal reality that they all generally accept, even if they're all still getting used to it.


Instead of tickets, turn lights red for speeders

Opponents of speed cameras often insist that they don't want drivers to speed—what they object to is the revenue-raising function of the cameras and their invasion of privacy. There may be a way to give these critics what they say they want, at least on some roads, while curbing excess speed more effectively.

Photo from FHWA.

How about wiring radars to turn the next traffic light red whenever a speeder passes? Instead of getting a ticket in the mail, a speeder would just get a red light. With the right settings, this would slow down all speeders—including those who speed by less than 12 mph.

Traffic safety experts I spoke with could not point me to any experience with such a system, so it will take trial and error to work out the bugs and optimize the design.

Speeders' behavior is more likely to change if they understand why they got the red light, but if drivers get that message too soon, they might speed up more to beat the light instead.

If a light turns green and then a speeder fairly quickly shows up, turning it red again, there might be pedestrians in the parallel crosswalk. They'll need time to finish crossing, which would mean a 4-way red period. However, these will have to be minimal so that drivers are not overly tempted to run red lights.

And how would this work on multi-lane roads when one speeder might stop traffic for many other law-abiding drivers? Signals always give some unnecessary red intervals—they can't perfectly match changing traffic volumes through the day—but the red lights shouldn't excessively interfere with vehicle movement. The first experiments should probably be on narrow roads with relatively light auto traffic.

There shouldn't be legal obstacles. Radar-actuated traffic signals are approved by the Federal Highway Administration, and state laws that limit the placement of speed cameras do not apply to them. Some cities (including DC on parts of 16th Street) already limit speed with traffic signals by synchronizing closely-spaced lights so that drivers who exceed the limit hit a red.

How and where might this strategy work best? And will objections to automated speed limit enforcement diminish when the radar system no longer raises revenue from drivers?

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