CHICAGO (WBBM) — Improve your gas mileage and you can save money. It’s just as true for the Illinois State Police as it is for anyone else.

But as WBBM’s Bob Roberts reports, you don’t have Argonne National Laboratory scientists studying how to do it.

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An Argonne research team that includes a former Ford engine designer will use a State Police Crown Victoria Police Interceptor – a car that is beloved by troopers but has notoriously poor fuel economy — as a test bed for the next year.

Illinois Toll Highway Authority Executive Director Kristi Lafleur enlisted Argonne. She said the researchers will monitor the squad car in good weather and bad, in heavy urban traffic and out on the open highway – but in such a way that the troopers driving it won’t know they are driving a test bed.

“We don’t want anyone changing the way they drive or changing the way they do business,” she said. “It’s a blind test.”

While one modified Interceptor plies the tollways, another identical squad car will be kept at Argonne. Much of the research team’s focus will involve fuel consumption when the car is idling and how to minimize it while conducting surveillance, running on-board radar and computers and doing everything else officers do while standing still.

“We’re thinking out beyond where, say, GM or Ford might be thinking,” said Argonne Director Eric Isaacs said. “We think about what vehicles might look like 10 years down the road, and it’s very hard for a company like GM to think necessarily about some of the innovation.”

That means the squad car itself will be under constant monitoring.

“It’ll go into daily routine service,” said Glenn Keller, the former Ford engine designer who heads the research team. “Meanwhile, we’ll be recording data, logging data off of it when it’s on its operations.”

The testing will last for a year because Keller wants to be able to get data for all types of weather and traffic conditions.

District 15 state troopers patrol all Illinois toll roads.

Ford Crown Victoria Police Interceptors have an EPA combined fuel economy rating of 19 mpg, with the numbers dipping as low as about 13 mpg in stop-and-start driving. The excessive idling characteristic of State Police work on the tollways drives that mileage even lower.

Lafleur said her goal is to achieve a fuel savings of at least 1 percent, which would save the Toll Highway Authority at least $20,000 a year. Keller said that once the research on squad cars’ mileage is done, he expects to work on ways to increase the fuel economy of the trucks the Toll Highway Authority uses for snow removal.

Keller and Isaacs said, while the state of Illinois stands to benefit first, they expect the fuel-saving research to be applicable eventually to all motorists.

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