Hey lead foot, if you want to save gas, slow down

'Drive easy' decal
The window decal Fulton Hanson sends out to folks who agree to follow the drive-easy and conserve pledge.
MPR Photo/Dan Olson

How much gas does Fulton Hanson save when he follows his own drive-easy and conserve advice?

"I can pick up about 31 to 33 miles per gallon on this large car," he says.

That's when he drives at 55 miles per hour which happens to be the speed limit on most of Minnesota's state highways.

How large a car? At first Hanson is reluctant to confess.

"It's a huge car, it's a big old V-8, I'm embarrassed to tell you what it actually is...a friend of mine had this old Lincoln...."

As in Lincoln Continental.

Fulton Hanson drives a living-room-on-wheels, a vehicle that under the foot of many drivers would get no better than 20 miles per gallon.

Before labeling Fulton Hanson a hypocrite for trying to save the planet while driving a barge with tires consider this: It's a 14 year old car he bought for $1600, and it refuses to die. He argues why further despoil the planet by junking it and buying something else.

The roots of Hanson's campaign go way back, nearly 40 years. He and his then young family had relocated from the Twin Cities to rural Hinckley. They didn't have much money so they offered people their labor for most of their needs. Their move to the country coincided with the oil embargo when gas prices shot up. Hanson discovered one way to save money was to let up on the accelerator and boost mileage.

"I'm saving money which was critical for us because we were doing more bartering than making money," he says.

Contrarians might argue Fulton Hanson is misled. Today's modern vehicles are so efficient there's little savings between going 55 or 80.

Bruce Jones disagrees.

"By driving slower we use less fuel," he says.

Jones is a professor of automotive technology at Minnesota State University-Mankato. He says it's easy for drivers to lose track of how fast they're going because newer vehicles are quieter and smoother.

"It doesn't feel like you're driving as fast," he says.

And Minnesotan's are driving faster. It's been about a decade since the federal law mandating a 55 mile per hour speed limit was repealed.

Average peak speeds on Minnesota's interstate freeways topped out two years ago, according to Nathan Drews, a Minnesota Department of Transportation safety specialist.

"Roughly 75 miles per hour up to 79 where it has remained consistent for the past five years," Drews said.

Minnesota's fastest drivers who are reluctant to adopt Fulton Hanson's drive-easy, conserve philosophy face the hammer. The state is continuing a crackdown on speeders. The increased enforcement, Nathan Drews says, is working.

"We've lopped the head off of the fastest drivers out there, upwards of 70 percent on some roads," he says.

What would happen if every American driver took the drive easy and conserve pledge? Government studies show higher speeds can cut gas mileage by up to 20 percent. Jackrabbit stops and starts and idling in city traffic further reduce mileage.

Use 10 percent as the potential savings if everyone used a lighter foot. Industry estimates show Americans burn 400 million gallons of gasoline a day. With 10 percent better mileage taking the drive-easy, conserve approach about 40 million would be saved.

At $3 a gallon that's a daily collective savings of $120 million.

In Minnesota, officials say, the average driver uses about 537 gallons of gas a year. A 10 percent savings is about 54 gallons, just over $162 a year.

Fulton Hanson says the drive-easy and conserve movement doesn't require a major sacrifice from any one person.

"We've got some global problems we have to address with fossil fuels. If people are just (told), this is the problem, this is how we can fix it...if everyone takes a chunk of their speed and just drives easy a little bit."

Followers of Fulton Hanson's gas saving crusade get a window decal that says drive easy conserve. He says the movement is small but growing with adherents from around the country and Mexico signing on.

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