SEATTLE — Following President Trump’s inauguration on Jan. 20, he will likely have received two sets of keys along with the powers and duties of President of the United States of America: one set for the White House, and one set for a brand new car, an updated model of President Obama’s armored limousine Washington has referred to for the past eight years as the “Beast.” This begs the question, is the president allowed to drive?
While there is no law or regulation that expressly prevents the President of the United States from driving in a personal vehicle, it is the preference of the secret service to drive current and former presidents. In 2012, President Obama signed into law the Former Presidents Protection Act, reinstating lifetime Secret Service protection for George W. Bush, himself, and all subsequent presidents.
Presidents have long followed protocol at least of not driving on open roads, even though presidents are technically allowed to drive, but discouraged to do so. Some U.S. presidents have found loopholes in the security system to get behind the wheel. Many secret service agents recall stories of both the late Ronald Reagan and former President George W. Bush describing ranch excursions in Texas and California.
After John F. Kennedy was assassinated while riding in an open-topped Lincoln on Nov. 22, 1963, all security protocols for the President of the United States changed. Measures to ensure complete security have transitioned over time from closed and armored cars to block-long motorcades and around-the-clock secret service.
President Obama did not own a ranch, but was sighted in 2012 driving around the White House grounds in a plug-in hybrid Chevrolet Volt. This was said to be his joyride three times around the South Lawn. Hillary Clinton, who has had a secret service detail for the last 18 years, said she had not driven that entire time. It is not only the president who is subject to driving restrictions but also the vice president and any family members who have a security detail.
The last president allowed to drive on public roads after leaving office in the Texas Hill Country was Lyndon B. Johnson. So, is the president allowed to drive? Yes. Do presidents often do so? No. Some drive on private land and some drive on golf courses. Some take small excursions on the White House property. Some just dream about driving.
What will President Trump do? The 45th U.S. president has broken with numerous traditions already, including his having an unsecured cell phone and private email server, a winter White House in Florida, and his own airplane to replace AirForce One.
– Addison Grace Evans