News & Politics

Did You Just See the President’s Motorcade? Here’s How to Tell

Photography by Flickr user Elvert Barnes

The President

Identifiable by the presidential seal on the commander-in-chief’s limo—an armored vehicle dubbed the Beast—this motorcade can stretch 30 vehicles long. The President’s car has two flags at the front: the US flag on the driver’s side, the flag of the President on the passenger side. (A decoy limo also has the flags and seal.) Another tip is the Beast’s license plate, 800-002.

The Vice President

Similar to the President’s, just shorter and with the vice-presidential seal. Another difference, according to former Secret Service agent Jonathan Wackrow, now a security expert at RANE: “The limo is larger for POTUS; the VP gets the hand-me-downs.” It’s still armored.

The First Lady

For scheduled occasions, the First Lady’s motorcade is only about ten vehicles long. For unscheduled occasions, the Secret Service has been known to use fewer vehicles—sometimes silver Suburbans in-stead of black—because the threat level is seen as lower when her plans aren’t publicized.

Cabinet Secretaries

Members of the Cabinet typically ride in motorcades of two to five vehicles. For the most part, these obey traffic signals, unlike other motorcades. The Cabinet member often rides in a black Suburban or sedan with his or her security detail; lights are affixed to the vehicles in case they hit traffic and need to buzz through.

Foreign Dignitaries

Illustrations by Jason Schneider

Visiting heads of state are granted motorcades. The security level and number of vehicles depend on the dignitary. Israel’s prime minister requires more vehicles than the prime minister of Grenada, for example. The tip-off to these motorcades? When the head of state is on an official visit, flags are on the front hood.