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Who's behind the wheels of the presidential motorcade?

Some of the drivers of the president's motorcade are students, local party volunteers or just people with friends in the White House
Who's behind the wheel? Volunteer drivers used in presidential motorcades 03:56

When the president travels, he is usually not alone. Dozens of people, from local politicians to Secret Service and even the press come along. Now it's becoming known that the people responsible for transporting them aren't that different from us, reports CBS News correspondent Bill Plante.

In August 2010, Elson Trinidad received a call from the White House offering him an opportunity he didn't even know existed.

"I was shopping at the local farmers market and she said, 'Elson, the president will be in town next week. Would you be interested in becoming a volunteer motorcade driver?' And I kind of froze for a couple seconds and I said, 'What?'" Trinidad said.

A Los Angeles city councilman recommended Trinidad to White House staffers. A week before president Obama arrived in the city, he went through a full background check and was told he couldn't tell anyone what he was about to do. And he had no idea what to expect.

"We were told to get in the vehicles and start the engines and then we saw the helicopters descend from the sky and before we knew it the door was opened and a group of people from the White House press pool came in my van which was called Wire One," Trinidad said.

For two days Trinidad and other volunteers chauffeured White House staff, press and local dignitaries around the streets of Los Angeles.

Former Secret Service agent Dan Emmett called it a security risk and recently told the New York Times: "We were more concerned with that than an attack on the motorcade. In terms of it being a concern for the protection of the president of the United States, I don't, I just don't see it."

Former director of the Secret Service Ralph Basham defends the practice, which he said has gone on for more than four decades.

"The president is in one of the safest places anywhere, perhaps even including the White House when he is in that vehicle. That is state of the art technology. The best of the best," Basham said. "Plus, he is surrounded by agents in the follow up cars, in spare vehicles."

In a statement to CBS News, the Secret Service said while volunteer drivers transport staff and press, the president's limousine and the security vehicles which surrounds it are driven by Secret Service personnel and that safety is not an issue.

"I mean the president, we could put him in a lead box, and put him, you know, six feet in the ground. He'd certainly be protected. He'd be safe. But he couldn't go about the people's business," Basham said.

So if an attack of some kind were to happen, Basham said the president and his security, known as the "secure package," would peel away, leaving the rest of the motorcade behind. The Secret Service says it's not responsible for the staff or the press.

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