Obama at the Wheel: Wheels Off the Road

President Barack Obama prepares to get into a driving simulator while touring the Federal Highway Administration's Turner-Fairbank Highway Research Center on July 15, 2014 in Mclean, Virginia.

Photography by Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images

President Barack Obama prepares to get into a driving simulator while touring the Federal Highway Administration’s Turner-Fairbank Highway Research Center on July 15, 2014 in Mclean, Virginia.

President Barack Obama got a little giddy today when he had a chance to get behind the wheel of the car for a few minutes. Never mind that the car wasn’t on a road  – nor did it go anywhere.

“Everybody, they’re letting me drive again!” Obama said with what sounded like genuine – not feigned – enthusiasm when he entered a driving simulator at the Turner-Fairbank Highway Research Center in McLean, Virginia. “This is so exciting!”

Obama spent more than five minutes in the simulator – a real car mounted on a lift that allows it to be driven without going anywhere. A guide chattered away in the passenger seat, telling the president about vehicle-to-vehicle technology that allows cars to “talk” and avoid collisions. But Obama paid about as much attention to him as his newly 16-year-old daughter might pay to her driver’s education teacher.

“Whoah,” he said as the ride began. “We’re going a little fast here.”

He “drove” as a phalanx of photographers stood outside the driver’s door to capture the moment, leading Obama to comment on how “weird” it was to feel like you’re driving when people remain in place outside the window. He spared the “Wizard of Oz” references — though he did draw a comparison with “Knight Rider,” that 90′s TV show.

In a more serious speech later about transportation spending and partisan politics, Obama told the audience he was afraid he’d had a “lead foot” during the drive. It had been about six years since he had a chance behind the wheel, he said.

Obama was elected to his first term as president in 2008. While the presidency comes with myriad perks, one of the downsides is that the American public takes away the car keys, replacing them with a Secret Service detail that drives the leader everywhere he goes.

Almost six years into the presidency, Obama has been chafing at the trappings of the office, heading out on a series of walks and people greeting in Washington and on travels around the country.

He didn’t throw all caution aside though in the simulator. The first thing he did upon entering the car: buckled his seat belt, saying “Safety first!”

 

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