Ultimate Driving Terms Glossary

Contents

A

Accelerator

The foot pedal that controls the speed of the car by increasing or decreasing fuel intake. In most cars it is the pedal located on the right.

ADI

Stands for Approved Driving Instructor. An individual who has been approved by the DVSA and is registered to teach learners to drive.

Anti-lock Braking System (ABS)

A computer-controlled system that prevents a car's wheels from locking when a driver is forced to brake hard. It is a safety feature intended to reduce or prevent uncontrolled skidding.

Automatic Vehicle

Vehicles in which gears are automatically selected for you, usually by what is known as a torque converter, which connects the transmission to the engine. Some people find automatic vehicles easier to drive because you don't have to spend so much time working on clutch control. The downside is that they can use fuel up more quickly than manual cars.

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B

Bay Parking

One of the manoeuvres you may be required to demonstrate during the practical driving test. It involves either reversing in and driving out of, or driving in and reversing out of a parking bay.

Belisha Beacon

The amber flashing lights situated at both sides of a zebra crossing.

Black Ice

Transparent layers of ice that form on the surface of roads and pavements after particularly cold weather. Black ice can be hard to spot and sometimes causes accidents, which is why it's really important to take extra care when driving in wintry conditions.

Blind Spot

The areas that you cannot see, even when using your mirrors. The blind spot over your right shoulder is particularly important and must be checked before setting off on a drive.

Box Junctions

Marked by criss-crossed yellow lines, you can usually find these at large, busy crossroads. You should not enter a box junction unless your exit road is clear, so always wait just before the junction if traffic is blocking your way.

Brakes

The brake pedal slows down or stops a vehicle when pressure is applied to it. In manual cars it is the pedal located in the middle.

Breathalyser

A piece of equipment used by police to determine how much alcohol is in a person's system. If you are suspected of drink-driving you will be asked to take a breathalyser test, as well as a few field assessments. If you refuse to take the test you can be penalised.

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C

Carriageway

A road, usually with two or more lanes, designed for vehicles and not for pedestrians. For example, each side of a motorway is a carriageway.

Catalytic Converter

A device on a vehicle's exhaust system that reduces the amount of toxic pollutants being emitted. It converts harmful gases like carbon monoxide, nitrogen oxide and hydrocarbons into harmless substances like carbon dioxide.

Central Reservation

The strip of land in the middle of a major road, like a motorway. It separates traffic flowing in opposite directions and is often marked by amber studs.

Clutch

The mechanism that connects the engine to the transmission system in manual vehicles. The clutch pedal is located on the left and you use it to change gears and when braking. Mastering clutch control is an important part of the process of learning to drive.

Coasting

This happens when you allow a vehicle to free-wheel without using engine power, by holding down the clutch or leaving the car in neutral. People sometimes coast in order to reduce the amount of petrol being used, but it is a dangerous habit as you have little control of the car when coasting. During the driving test, if you coast more than once or for a significant period of time, you may fail.

Congestion Charge

A charge applied to vehicles driving in certain areas during established time frames. They are implemented in areas prone to heavy traffic, like central London, in an attempt to reduce congestion.

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D

Dashboard

The control panel of a vehicle. Located in front of the driver, it displays instruments and controls such as the speedometer and fuel levels. You should keep an eye out for any warning lights illuminated on the dashboard, as this indicates there is a problem with part of the vehicle that requires inspection.

Defensive Driving

A style of driving that involves using your skill and knowledge to anticipate potential hazards and be prepared to deal with them in a safe and effective manner. It acknowledges that there are circumstances out of your control (like drunk drivers or bad weather) that may put you at risk. Using defensive driving techniques—like maintaining a safe distance between you and the car in front—can minimise the likelihood that you will end up in an accident.

Demister

A device within a vehicle that uses heat and air to reduce condensation on windows—particularly the windscreen and rear window. When setting off in cold weather it is important that you have defrosted your vehicle, and demisting the windows is a major part of this process.

Diesel

An alternative to petrol that is often more expensive but more fuel-efficient. In diesel engines, power is created when air is compressed and then fuel is added (whereas in petrol engines, fuel is mixed with air and then compressed). If you accidentally put petrol in a diesel car it can damage the fuel system.

Dipped Headlights

Dipped beam is a setting on a vehicle's headlights that illuminates the road without dazzling other drivers. If a dark road is empty or visibility is particularly poor, you can switch to full beam headlights. Dipped headlights are the setting you should use most frequently as they are the safest option.

Driving Examiner

The individuals who assess you during your practical test. In order to qualify to be a driving examiner you must: be 24 or over, have had a UK or EU licence for over 4 years, and no more than 3 penalty points on your licence.

Driving Instructor

A person who teaches learners how to drive. Qualified driving instructors are graded as either A (high standard) or B (satisfactory standard). To charge money for driving lessons, an individual must be a registered ADI.

Dual Carriageway

A large road with a central reservation dividing two different flows of traffic. Very similar to motorways, except they don't have controlled access and learner drivers are allowed to drive on them. The national speed limit applies to dual carriageways, unless they are in a built-up area.

Dual Controls

A car that has pedals on the passenger's side as well as the driver's side is a dual-controlled car. They are used by driving instructors to ensure safety during lessons.

DVSA

The Driver and Vehicle Standards Agency. It is an executive agency of the UK Department for Transport that is responsible for setting driving standards. They do this by carrying out a range of tests and checks on vehicles and the people using them (including the practical driving test), providing educational resources and investigating when standards are not met.

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E

Emergency Stop

A safety technique that 1 in 3 people will be required to demonstrate during their practical test. It involves stopping the car as quickly as possible, with very little notice. As soon as the examiner signals, you should firmly press on the brake pedal (and the clutch if you can, to prevent the car from stalling), put the handbrake on, and put the gears in neutral. This is designed to test your reaction time to unexpected hazards—something you need to be prepared for as a qualified driver.

Emergency Vehicle

Vehicles used by emergency services personnel, like ambulances and police cars. They are fitted with lights and sirens which they will display in emergency situations. It is important when you are driving to look/listen out for such vehicles and move out of the way to let them past (if you are able to and it is safe to do so) when they are en route to an emergency. 

Engine

The machine within a vehicle that turns fuel into mechanical movement. It does this by compressing the fuel with air and adding a spark to produce combustion forces. As part of the ‘show me, tell me' section of the practical test, you may be asked how to check levels of engine coolant or oil.   

Exhaust System

The mechanism that carries dangerous exhaust gases away from the engine and emits them from the vehicle, usually through an exhaust pipe.

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F

Fail

The result you get if you do not pass your theory or practical test. A fail on the theory test is any score below 43/50 on the multiple choice section and anything below 44/75 on the hazard perception section. You will fail the practical test if you make more than 15 minor faults or any major fault.

Filter Lights

The green arrows that appear on certain traffic lights. When they illuminate it indicates that traffic travelling in the highlighted direction has priority. They are usually situated at busy junctions, where traffic turning right, for example, may have limited opportunity to go. Filter lights can be activated before or after a full green phase.

Fog Lights

The most powerful setting on a vehicle's lights. The beams are so strong that they can have the effect of dazzling other road users, which is very dangerous. Fog lights should only be used in instances where visibility is so poor that you cannot see more than 100 metres ahead of you. You can be fined by the police for inappropriate use of fog lights.

Four-Wheel Drive

A vehicle where all four wheels receive torque (power) from the engine simultaneously, allowing the driver to have more control over the steering. These vehicles are designed to be used for off-road driving, because the system makes navigating rough surfaces much easier.

Fuel Consumption

The level of fuel a vehicle requires to travel a certain distance. In the UK, it is measured in miles per gallon. The more fuel efficient a car is, the cheaper it should be for you to run it in the long term.

Full Beam Headlights

The setting on a vehicle's lights that are stronger than dipped beam but not as powerful as fog lights. They can be used in scenarios when visibility is poor and the road is empty. If you notice other vehicles while your full beam headlights are on, you should switch to dipped (unless visibility is extremely limited) to avoid dazzling other drivers.

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G

Gantry

The bridge-like structures displaying signs, often found on busy carriageways with multiple lanes. On modern and ‘smart' motorways, gantries can be used to provide updated information on speed limits and traffic congestion.

Gears

The mechanism that determines the ratio between engine output and speed of the car. In manual vehicles the driver controls the gears using the gear stick and clutch. Automatic vehicles take care of this step for you.

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H

Handbrake

Also known as the parking brake. Situated between the two front seats, it is a lever operated by hand that is mainly used when the car is at a complete stop. It's also recommended that you put the handbrake on after performing an emergency stop.

Hard Shoulder

The hardened strip of land alongside motorways and other major roads that are generally only to be used in emergency situations, such as your car breaking down. Newer ‘smart' motorways sometimes open up the hard shoulder as an extra lane, in an effort to reduce congestion.

Hazard Lights

The setting that causes the indicator lights on a vehicle to flash simultaneously, indicating to other road users that the driver is experiencing some kind of problem. It may signal that said vehicle is about to slow down or stop abruptly.

Hazard Perception

A section of the theory test that measures a learner's ability to observe developing hazards that would require a driver to take action. The test involves watching 14 video clips and clicking a mouse as soon as you notice a hazard developing. The pass mark is 44/75.

Highway Code

A collection of information and rules for all road users in the United Kingdom. It covers a wide range of areas including road signs, pedestrian crossings and speed limits. It's the ultimate handbook for road safety and a great resource for learners.

Hill Start

When you set off in a vehicle that's been parked on an incline. Whether travelling up or downhill, starting a vehicle from this position requires particularly good clutch control.

Horsepower

The unit of measurement that determines the power of an engine. The horsepower of a car refers to the maximum power its engine can produce.

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I

Independent Driving

A section of the practical driving test that was introduced in October 2010. It lasts for roughly 20 minutes and involves following directions from either traffic signs (1 in 5 chance) or a sat nav, without further instructions from the examiner.

Indicators

The flashing lights on either side of a vehicle that signal to other road users whether the driver is going left or right. You should indicate when turning corners, changing lanes, and when exiting or pulling up on a road.

Intensive Driving Course

A course option for learners that involves longer lessons being taken in a short amount of time. Rather than hourly lessons over a period of months, for example, intensive courses usually consist of lessons up to 5 hours long being taken over a couple of weeks. Intensive courses often mean learners pass much sooner and can save money in the long run.

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J

Jump Leads

Electric cables that are used to connect one vehicle's battery to that of another, in order to recharge and jump start a battery that has run out of power.

Junction

An area where two or more roads come together. Navigating junctions requires careful observation and clear signalling.

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K

Kerb

The stone edge of pavements. It's important to avoid touching the kerb when driving, particularly when performing manoeuvres. If you hit the kerb during the driving test, it will not necessarily result in a fail. You will likely pick up a minor fault—unless you hit it with particular force or mount the kerb, in which case it could count as a major fault.

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L

Lane

Sections of a road, usually defined by pained lines, that separate single lines of traffic. Can also refer to narrow roads, often found in the countryside. Different lanes may have different uses. For example, on motorways the middle and right lane are for overtaking.

Level Crossing

Areas where train tracks and roads cross one another. They are usually marked by barriers and lights, as these crossings can be particularly dangerous. You should be vigilant and pay close attention to the rules when navigating level crossings.

Licence

In driving terms, this refers to permits bestowed by the DVSA that either enable you to learn to drive (provisional) or confirm you are a qualified driver (full driving licence). The licence is provided in the form of a card, which differ in colour depending on your driving status: provisional licences are green, while full licences are pink.

L-Plates

The small square signs (178x178mm exactly) that must be displayed on any car being driven by a learner driver. There should be an L-plate on both the front and rear of the vehicle, in a position that makes them visible to other road users.

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M

Major Fault

Officially referred to as ‘serious' or ‘dangerous' faults on the driving test, a major fault involves an action that is potentially dangerous or actually poses danger to you, the examiner, other road users or property. Incurring even one major fault during the driving test will result in an instant fail.

Minor Fault

Officially referred to as a ‘driving' fault, a minor fault is an action that is a mistake, but does not pose any danger. However, if a certain driving fault is repeated, it may become a serious fault. On the driving test you can make up to 15 minor faults before it constitutes a fail.

Manoeuvre

A driving manoeuvre tests your observation skills and ability to control the car at the same time. On the driving test you will be asked to perform 1 of 3 possible manoeuvres: a parallel park, parking in a bay or pulling up on the right. You should also practice turning in the road and reversing around a corner with your instructor.

Manual Vehicle

A vehicle in which the driver must use the clutch to select gears, thus connecting the transmission to the engine. Some find it harder to learn to drive in a manual car because of the extra work mastering clutch control and gear selection. However, if you get a manual licence, you are permitted to drive both manual and automatic vehicles (it does not work the other way around).

Motorway

Major roads with multiple lanes designed for fast travel over long distances. Traffic travelling in opposite directions is often separated by a central reservation and you enter and leave a motorway via slip roads. The speed limit is 70 mph, but this may be reduced in instances of congestion, or when there has been an accident.

MOT

A test designed by the Ministry of Transport that all UK vehicles over three years old must pass to ensure they are safe to drive. The tests are required on a yearly basis and involve multiple checks being carried out on a vehicle's systems.                 

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N

Neutral

The position the gear stick in a manual car is in when it is not connected to the engine. If you allow the car to continue moving while in neutral, this is known as ‘coasting'.

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O

One-Way Street

A street on which traffic is only allowed to travel in one direction. They are marked by rectangular blue signs with a white arrow pointing in the direction of traffic flow. During your test keep an eye out for no entry signs (a red circle with a white horizontal bar inside) that signal one way roads you cannot enter from your position on the road.

Oil

You put oil in your car to prevent the engine from overheating. The engine is made up of a lot of moving parts; the oil absorbs the heat produced by these motions and eases the movement. The ‘show me, tell me' section of the driving test may involve you being asked how you would check your car's oil level.

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P

P-Plates

Similar to L-plates, these green and white signs indicate that the driver of a vehicle has only recently passed their test. The P stands for ‘probationary' and, while not mandatory, P-plates encourage other drivers to be more patient with you—which is helpful when you are new to the road.

Parallel Parking

A manoeuvre that involves parking by initially positioning the vehicle parallel to the side of the road and moving directly behind another vehicle that is already parked. It is 1 of 3 manoeuvres you may be required to demonstrate on the practical test.

Pass Plus

A non-mandatory practical training course for qualified drivers that aims to improve both skills and driving safety. It takes at least 6 hours overall and covers important areas such as night-time driving and motorways.

Pass Rate

The driving test pass rate shows, as a percentage, the number of people who passed the test versus the number of tests taken overall. According to the most recent figures from the DVSA, the nationwide pass rate currently stands at 46.6%.

Pedestrian

A person travelling by foot rather than vehicle. Drivers need to be mindful of pedestrians, as they also use the roads and reckless driving or lack of sufficient observation can result in fatal accidents.

Pedestrian Crossing

Points in the road designed to allow pedestrians to cross. There are a variety of different types, each with slightly different rules and symbols. At all pedestrian crossings, drivers should be prepared to stop and give way to those needing to cross the road.

Pegasus Crossing

The variation of pedestrian crossing that caters to horses (and their riders) as well as cyclists and general pedestrians. They are also known as equestrian crossings.

Pelican Crossing

Stands for Pedestrian Light Indication. A type of crossing where pedestrians control the flow of traffic by pressing a button at the side of the road. A red or green man located next to the lights on the opposite side of the road indicates to pedestrians when it is there turn to cross.

Petrol

The fuel used to power most cars. In petrol engines, power is created when the fuel is mixed with air and then compressed.

Power Steering

A system that uses hydraulic and/or electric power to aid the driver in turning the wheels of the car via the steering wheel. It makes it much easier for drivers to perform manoeuvres and other actions that require a lot of steering.

Puffin Crossing

Stands for Pedestrian User Friendly Intelligent crossing. They have similar activation buttons to those at pelican crossings, but also employ sensors to determine when pedestrians are waiting to cross. The green and red man symbols are located at the side of the crossing, rather than on the opposite side of the road.

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R

Refresher Course

Short driving courses designed to refresh the knowledge of people who have had driving lessons before, but have taken a significant break from practising. They can also be used as a quick refresher for someone who has recently failed their test and aims to retake one as soon as possible.

Refuge Island

Small sections of pavement, located in the middle of particularly busy roads, that provide a place for pedestrians to stand when they're halfway through crossing the road.

Reverse Around a Corner

A manoeuvre that involves—yes, you guessed it—reversing around a corner. Although it is no longer on the driving test (as of December 2017), it is important that you learn this manoeuvre with your instructor as you'll find it incredibly useful in your future driving endeavours.

Road Tax

A tax that must be paid on a yearly basis by owners of any vehicles using public roads. Also known as Vehicle Excise Duty.

Roundabout

A junction at which multiple roads join and traffic must travel around a circular central reservation in order to reach the various exits. On roundabouts you should always give way to the traffic on your right. When driving on roundabouts you need to make sure you are positioned in the correct lane and signal appropriately. 

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S

Sat Nav

Short for satellite navigation. Sat navs are used in many vehicles to show drivers where they are on a map and provide directions to inputted locations. As of December 2017, the independent driving section of the practical test includes a stage during which the learner is required to follow directions from a satnav. 1 in 5 students will be required to follow directions from road signs instead.

School Crossing

Pedestrian crossings designed to cater to school children and their parents. Usually only in operation during school hours (early morning and late afternoon), they are often manned by a crossing guard. School crossings can be established on existing zebra crossings, or any part of a road that is a convenient crossing point for school users.

Show Me, Tell Me Questions

At the beginning of the driving test, the examiner will ask you a ‘tell me' question, which requires you to tell the examiner how you would carry out a particular safety test. For example, they may ask you to open the car's bonnet and explain how you would check that the car has sufficient oil.

During the test, the examiner will ask you a ‘show me' question, requiring you to actually show the examiner how you would carry out a safety task. For example, they may ask you to show them how you would turn on the dipped headlights.

Answering these questions incorrectly will not mean you have failed the test.

Skid

This occurs when a driver loses control of the car and the wheels slide across the road's surface. The chances of skidding are increased when conditions are icy, but it can also happen if a driver stops or turns the car too quickly.

Slip Road

The roads on which you enter and exit motorways or dual carriageways. They are designed to give you enough time to build up speed so that you can join the traffic already on the carriageway in a safe manner.

Smart Motorway

A motorway that uses active traffic management techniques to spot hazards and respond in real time by controlling the flow of traffic accordingly. Techniques include adjusting the speed limit and employing an ‘all lanes running' policy, which involves using the hard shoulder as an extra lane. Currently, sections of the M1, M4, M6 and M25 have been converted into smart motorways, with major expansions planned for the near future.

Speed Limit

Defines the maximum speed a vehicle is allowed to travel on a particular road. In the UK, the national speed limit is 70 mph on motorways, 60 mph on single carriageways and 30mph in built up areas (you can use street lights as an indication you are entering a built up area). Local councils can also impose speed limits, so look out for signs signalling a change to the limit (black numbers on a white background within a red circle).

In some areas, minimum speed limits may also be found. These are necessary to ensure a steady flow of traffic in places such as tunnels. Signs indicating minimum speed limits will feature a number within a blue circle; if you see the same number with a red diagonal line through it, the minimum speed limit zone has come to an end.

Stall

When the engine of a vehicle is overloaded it will suddenly shut off. This is known as stalling. A common scenario in which this occurs is when the clutch is released too quickly. Stalling is an accident that all drivers make at some point—particularly those who are still in the learning process. Stalling during the practical test will not result in a fail, unless it happens repeatedly and creates a potentially dangerous situation.

Stopping Distance

A combination of thinking distance and braking distance. In other words, the distance a vehicle travels between the moment the driver decides to stop and the moment the vehicle actually comes to a stop. Factors affecting stopping distance include driver reflexes and road conditions.

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T

Tailgating

The act of driving very closely behind another vehicle. It is a dangerous habit because it leaves no room for stopping distance in the event of a hazard. You should aim to maintain a two-second gap between you and the car in front if conditions are normal. Hazardous conditions or larger vehicles will require an increased gap.

Test Centre

Locations that provide examinations. The theory test takes place in a test centre, while the practical test begins and ends at a test centre—unless you decide to stop the test halfway through!

Theory Test

The non-practical stage of the driving test that must be passed before you can book a practical test. It is formed of two sections: 50 multiple choice questions and a hazard perception test. In order to pass, a student must get at least 43/50 on the multiple choice section and 44/75 on the hazard perception test.

Third Party Insurance

The minimum insurance cover required by law. It protects other vehicles, people and property in accidents that are your fault, but does not cover you (the first party).

Torque Converter

The most common type of transmission used in automatic cars. The converter selects the gears (connecting the transmission to the engine), meaning the driver doesn't require a clutch or gear stick, because the job is done for them.

Toucan Crossing

A type of pedestrian crossing that caters to cyclists as well as pedestrians. They tend to be wider than puffin and pelican crossings, and are often located near parks.

Traffic Calming Measures

Measures that urban planners and engineers put in place to encourage safer driving. Examples include speed bumps and refuge islands.

Transmission

The piece of machinery within a vehicle that connects to the engine and controls the distribution of speed and power. In manual cars, the driver connects the transmission to the engine by depressing the clutch and putting the car in gear. In automatic cars, a torque converter does the job.

Tread Depth

The measurement from the top of the tread rubber to the deepest grooves on a on a car's tyre. Tread depth is important for traction and expelling water. The legal minimum tread depth in the UK is 1.6mm.

Turn in the Road

Also known as a three-point turn. It involves a series of turns and reverses that position a car so that it is facing in the opposite direction from which it started. Though no longer a part of the driving test (as of December 2017), it is important that you learn it with your instructor, because this manoeuvre is often required in day-to-day driving.

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U

Unmarked Junctions

Junctions that have no signs or road markings. They are far more common in rural areas. Often no one has right of way at unmarked junctions, so you should show good judgement and sufficient caution when approaching and making your turn.

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W

Windscreen

The front window on vehicles. It should be kept clean and clear to ensure the driver has sufficient views of the road. In colder conditions the windscreen may need to be de-iced before the driver can set off.

Wing Mirrors

Also referred to as side mirrors. The two mirrors, one on either side of the front doors of a vehicle, that allow the driver to see what's happening at the side and rear of the vehicle. They should be checked before setting off, during travel and when performing manoeuvres.

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Y

Yellow Lines

Road markings along the side of a carriageway that indicate waiting restrictions. A single yellow line signifies that waiting (or parking) is not allowed during a specified time (which is usually displayed on a nearby sign). Double yellow lines at the edge of a road indicate that waiting is prohibited at all times. Parking on these lines during restricted hours can result in the driver being fined.

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Z

Zebra Crossing

A type of pedestrian crossing that gives priority to pedestrians. They are marked by black and white lines on the road (hence, zebra) and flashing yellow beacons. Drivers must stop and give way to pedestrians that are waiting at zebra crossings.

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