Here’s Why A Police Officer Touches A Car’s Taillight After They Pull Them Over

Updated November 22, 2017

It doesn’t matter whether you’re in Texas, Pennsylvania or Rhode Island, when because you’re probably super nervous as the cop prepares to greet you – you might be rifling through your glove compartment for your car’s registration. And although you might be innocent, it is tough not to feel anxious and like the cop might find fault in you. While police officers are only doing their job by pulling you over, you can’t help but take it personally. And when the officer starts asking you standard questions, you might not know how to react. But remain calm and answer them. Growing angry or agitated around a cop is not going to help your cause.

Most people have been pulled over before. I remember during my cross country road trip from Oregon to Virginia, I was pulled over in Nebraska. It was late and I was tired and it was windy. This made me swerve over the line a bit and the state officer saw me. He pulled me over on the highway and then proceeded to unleash the K-9 unit while he kept me in the passenger seat of his vehicle. It was strange and terrifying.

While you might not notice the simple things cops do all over the country (you were probably preoccupied as they walked over), they almost always do it. Police officers will touch the rear taillight before coming up to you. It might seem like a strange quirk, but is actually done for a specific reason.

Back when police officers weren’t equipped with body cams, they had to develop tactics when patrolling America’s highways. Because they also didn’t have dash cameras, police started tapping the taillight of the pulled over vehicle to catch the driver and passengers unaware.

As soon as police pull people over, they usually hide guns and drugs from sight. Tapping the taillight will make sure these people can’t do that as easily. It makes it harder for these smugglers to hide their illegal goods.

While this tactic is effective, police also touch taillights for another more practical reason. They want to leave evidence behind. When police touch the taillight, they leave their fingerprints on the suspicious vehicle. If they are attacked by the driver or something else happens, there is proof that the officer was at the scene.

Now dashcams are installed into almost every police cruiser. This helps protect police officers and the public because evidence is constantly being captured. This means the ritual of tapping the taillight might be going away. They no longer need to touch taillights to leave fingerprints because they have video evidence.

Other police departments are also actively discouraging police officers from tapping taillights because it gives away the cop’s location – this makes them extremely vulnerable during a firefight.

While many old school cops will tap the taillight until they retire, others will probably move forward. You probably won’t see it as often in the years to come – yet another tradition from the good old days that modern life is eroding.

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