Why Do Cops Touch Your Taillight When They Pull You Over?

If you have ever been pulled over before, then you know that it’s standard for the police officer to approach your window and ask for your license and vehicle registration. But one thing that you may have noticed is the cop touching the taillight as they walk by it on the way to your driver’s side window. But why do they do this?

Touching taillights dates back from decades ago

Once upon a time, there were no such things as dashboard cameras and body cams. And as much as any of the road-going public wants to argue that those tools, as well as recording your traffic stop with your own cell phone, is for the protection of the driver, dash and body cams are more often put in place to protect the officer as well. But before those things were invented, the police officer would instead touch the taillight of the car they just pulled over.

According to Mental Floss, this practice dates back to decades ago when the police didn’t have any fancy video recording devices to take footage of what happened during the traffic stop. The cop would simply walk by the taillight and tap his thumb or fingerprint on the car’s taillight in order to leave the breadcrumb or a trace of identity in case anything happened to them. If anything did happen, then the fingerprint could be used to track down a missing police officer or at least piece together what happened if a confrontation were to occur.

Dodge Durango Pursuit Police SUV
Dodge Durango Pursuit Police SUV | FCA US LLC

Do cops still touch your taillight now?

Another reason that cops would touch your car’s taillight was also to spook drivers who were up to no good. For example, if you were the type to hide weapons or drugs in your car upon getting pulled over, you would most likely stop scurrying about if the cop made an audible impression as he approached your car, like tapping the taillight.

However, this doesn’t typically happen anymore since the police force across the country now uses dash cams in their squad cars as well as body cams on their person in order to accurately record each pullover as much as possible. Aside from that, touching a car’s taillight nowadays is discouraged as some police agencies see it as a distraction for the officer when they pull you over.

An officer and a handheld radar gun
Maine State Police Sgt. George Denison checks vehicles approaching the Maine Turnpike’s exit 6A with a hand held radar gun | Photo by Doug Jones/Portland Press Herald via Getty Images

Audi RS 7 Owner Hits 187 MPH While Running From Police

You can use this technique to your advantage

According to Reader’s Digest, if a cop does touch your car’s taillight when they pull you over, then you can use it to your advantage. If your car happens to be really dirty, then the cop’s fingerprint is more like to standout, which means that if you get pulled over again, the second cop might notice the print and be more aggressive with you since you recently already had an interaction with law enforcement.  

What is suggested is to wash your car after you get pulled over in order to wash the dirt and that fingerprint off. Doing so will erase any trace that you were pulled over before, although, the next cop will likely find out anyway after they run your information through their system.