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What is a Motorcade?

Mary McMahon
Updated May 17, 2024
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A motorcade is a procession of vehicles that travels as a group, typically carrying Very Important Persons (VIPs) and their support staffs. Since the people are often high profile individuals, the procession is typically accompanied with law enforcement support and other protections which are designed to keep the occupants safe. Examples include inaugural processions, visits by heads of state to various regions, and funeral processions. In order for a motorcade to run smoothly, a great deal of coordination is involved.

The president of the United States famously uses motorcades to get around. A presidential motorcade can include a large number of cars, because in addition to the president and his or her spouse, the procession may include local politicians, photographers, and other guests of the President. The major members of the party typically travel in armored vehicles, and they are accompanied by law enforcement on motorcycles and in cars.

Details of the presidential motorcade are deliberately withheld from the public out of concern for his or her safety. Observers, however, can clearly see that it typically includes several armored vehicles, an ambulance, a counterassault team, press vans, vehicles to carry the Secret Service, and various law enforcement vehicles. A hazardous materials team usually travels with the group to look out for potential problems, along with an official who can change the route, if necessary. It is not uncommon to use dummy vehicles in a motorcade.

Depending on the type of motorcade, a road may be closed off to allow the cars to pass. This practice is common with heads of state, since the procession may be considered a major event, and people may want to turn out to watch it. Travel is also safer when the vehicles use a closed road; the cars can stick together more easily, and a lack of passing cars reduces the risk of disruptions.

In the case of a motorcade that travels on open roads, as often happens with a procession of cars traveling to a funeral, vehicles usually identify themselves with flags or window tags. Anyone who has ever noticed a long line of cars with tags reading "funeral" in their windows, has passed a motorcade. In cities where a visiting head of state plans to travel this way, citizens may be informed that they can stand in specific locations to view the passing cars, although the precise route is not always disclosed.

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Mary McMahon
By Mary McMahon

Ever since she began contributing to the site several years ago, Mary has embraced the exciting challenge of being a WiseGeek researcher and writer. Mary has a liberal arts degree from Goddard College and spends her free time reading, cooking, and exploring the great outdoors.

Discussion Comments

By anon279023 — On Jul 10, 2012

It was very interesting to me when I saw the biggest motorcade when our president Goodluck Johnathan visited our state in Nigeria for the commission of the new constructed road in our area.

By letshearit — On Jul 13, 2011

@drtroubles - A funeral procession is definitely a motorcade. When my uncle had his funeral we had a huge turnout, as he was a well-known member of our community. With such a large group of cars the police will usually escort the group to ensure that everything is going smoothly. The grouping the police heads up a motorcade and you can also hire additional private security if needed. Though it really depends on how much control you think you need when driving through areas.

Often motorcades move much more slowly than other groups of vehicles, so if you see one approaching you should either pull over to the side of the road until it passes or take an alternate route.

By drtroubles — On Jul 12, 2011

I wonder if a funeral procession could be considered a motorcade, even if the people in it aren't really considered VIPs?

Whenever we have a large funeral in our city it isn't uncommon for the group to have a police car escort and a few motorcycle cops around the group.

A funeral procession that passed by the other day actually had free run of the road as the police were blocking traffic so that the cars could pass through town more easily.

I always pull over and pay my respects when I see one of these funeral processions roll by. The group of cars always seems so sorrowful.

By Moldova — On Jul 12, 2011

@Sunshine31 - I agree with you and I don’t think that the Obama's motorcade is really over the top. I know that if I were president I sure would want to have a motorcade to not only to offer me safety, but to also protect my privacy and not have people taking pictures of me all of the time.

I also think that a lot of celebrities resort to using a motorcade because they don’t want the public to bother them or have the paparazzi take pictures of them. They also want to arrive in style because they have an image to uphold.

By sunshine31 — On Jul 11, 2011

@Truman12 - I agree with you and I just wanted to say that a White House motorcade is a necessity because the president has to be safe at all times. I wanted to add that when I went to the Ronald Reagan Presidential library in Simi Valley, California I was able to see the actual White House motorcade vehicles.

They said that the glass was on the windows were about six inches thick. It was amazing to see. It is really a shame that a presidential motorcade has to contain all of this bullet proof glass, but it just shows you the times that we are living in.

I really cringe when I see old footage of a JFK motorcade passing through a city. These cars used to be open so that the president could see the people, but now I guess they realize that this could also be dangerous.

By mabeT — On Jul 11, 2011

Does anybody else remember the movie with Eddie Murphy “Coming to America?” It was hilarious, but it’s got to be a couple of decades old now.

Anyway, this is the one and only time that I have actually seen a motorcade. Sure, I’ve seen the president’s car on television that is part of the motorcade, but not the actual group as a whole in all of its glory.

Is it represented well in the movie? I mean, is that really what a motorcade looks like? Because if it is, I’d love to have one myself! Of course, that’s not happening, but a person can dream!

By poppyseed — On Jul 10, 2011

@tlcJPC - Do you really think that the president is trying to look important by traveling in a motorcade? I will kindly have to disagree with you on that one.

It must be absolute torment to never be able to leave the house without all of these people to tag along. He must feel incredibly smothered a good deal of the time.

I think it is mainly for safety’s sake, and for the sake of plain old necessity that he rides in a motorcade most of his days. I’m sure one thing that he looks forward to when his time as president is up is to be able to ride with his girls all alone.

We can call it the President Obama and Ladies Solo Ride to Remember.

By tlcJPC — On Jul 10, 2011

@whiteplane - I think almost as much as safety issues, part of the reason that our president travels in a motorcade is to exalt or elevate him and show that he is affluent. In effect, he appears not to be a member of the people at all but rather the team leader.

After all, he is not the only person in the world who uses a motorcade, but I think it’s safe to say that anyone who does is immediately seen as an important, wealthy person.

It would be remiss to forget that only people who are well off and with lots of money can afford to travel around with twenty or so cars at the time. Heck, it’s all I can do to gas up my four cylinder Dodge some days.

By truman12 — On Jul 09, 2011

@whiteplane - I know what you mean. I have also seen a presidential motorcade and I was kind of shocked by how over the top it is. But this is an unfortunate necessity. Our country has a long and infamous history of attacks on the president and you have to take the maximum possible precautions to ensure his (or in the future her) safety.

Look at someone like the pope. He didn't always drive around in the pope mobile. But then someone took a shot at Pope John Paul II and now all Popes have to prepare for a possible threat to their life. You have to prepare for the worst. It might seem like an overreaction or a waste of resources but it is an unfortunate necessity these days

By whiteplane — On Jul 08, 2011

I saw the biggest motorcade of my life when president Obama visited my city last year. I happened to be traveling north on the same highway that he was traveling south. All traffic had been blocked off so that the presidential limousine and Obama's motorcade were the only cars on the road. There must have been at least 20 cars and motorcycles flanking his limousine.

It was impressive to see but it seemed kind of frivolous. I understand that we need to protect the safety of the president, but do we really need to build up an iron wall around him at all time. It makes him seem disconnected, someone that is not a part of the people.

Mary McMahon

Mary McMahon

Ever since she began contributing to the site several years ago, Mary has embraced the exciting challenge of being a...

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