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Sen. Katie Sieben of Cottage Grove, left, keeps her hands on the wheel Tuesday while driving instructor Todd Cook uses his hands to illustrate driving techniques that help motorists conserve gasoline. Tribune photo by Don Davis

Legislators get a firsthand look into eco-friendly driving

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News Willmar,Minnesota 56201 http://www.wctrib.com/sites/default/files/styles/square_300/public/fieldimages/1/1130/20090624sieben.jpg?itok=tTICts_O
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Legislators get a firsthand look into eco-friendly driving
Willmar Minnesota 2208 Trott Ave. SW / P.O. Box 839 56201

ST. PAUL -- Katie Sieben sat behind the wheel of a shiny new car, looking ahead to a traffic light.

"So I'm going to accelerate going up to the light?" she asked Todd Cook, teaching the Minnesota state senator about environmentally friendly driving.

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"Shoot," Sieben, DFL-Cottage Grove, said before Cook could respond.

The light was yellow well before she hit the intersection, but she made it through before seeing red. Barely.

Then, as Sieben turned her Ford Fusion onto the interstate, Cook coaxed her to gradually accelerate, not pushing the gas pedal to the floor like most drivers who are merging onto a busy multi-lane highway.

Cook works for ProFormance, a Phoenix, Ariz., company that teamed with Ford Motor Co. to promote ecodriving, techniques designed to save gasoline. If every American driver used the techniques, federal estimates show 22 billion gallons of gasoline could be saved a year.

ProFormance's owner, Drew DeGrassi, said a recent study showed many drivers can improve gasoline mileage nearly 25 percent by doing things like Cook was teaching Sieben: drive smoothly, with no jerks; stop as seldom as possible, slowing down well in advance of red lights so the vehicle can keep going; and generally keeping the engine's revolutions per minute below 2,000.

Cook emphasized planning ahead as the best way to save gasoline.

For instance, two vehicles were at a stop sign Sieben was approaching. Cook suggested that she slow down enough that they would already be past the sign when she arrived. That way, he said, the Fusion only would need to stop once, and more importantly only need to start once.

DeGrassi brought several of his instructors to St. Paul on Tuesday, where he joined with Sen. Scott Dibble and Rep. Frank Hornstein, both Minneapolis Democrats, who promoted a bill they plan to introduce in 2010 to require Minnesota driver's education classes to include ecodriving techniques.

"As a new generation of teenagers learn how to drive, it's important to teach driving skills they can use to drive safely, responsibly and efficiently throughout their lives." Hornstein said.

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Don Davis
Don Davis has been the Forum Communications Minnesota Capitol Bureau chief since 2001, covering state government and politics for two dozen newspapers in the state. Don also blogs at Capital Chatter on Areavoices.
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