Have You Seen A Police Officer Tap Your Tail Light When You’re Pulled Over?

Being pulled over is a stressful situation; it’s a police officer’s way of saying “hey we saw you do something wrong and we’re going to talk to you about it!” Even if you might not realize what you did!

Police officers came up with a trick to help themselves as they approach any car that is pulled over.

First Officers Monitor Vehicles on the Roadway

Just picture it; you’re cruising down the road enjoying the beautiful day, singing and jamming out to your favorite music.

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Photo by Philipp von Ditfurth/picture alliance via Getty Images
Photo by Philipp von Ditfurth/picture alliance via Getty Images

But you maybe don’t realize how fast you’re going, or that you just passed a police officer with a speed gun trying to get his next catch of the day.

They See Someone to Pull Over

The next thing you hear is sirens, getting closer and coming from behind you; you look at your rearview mirrors and see that a police car is driving up.

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Photo by Gabe Ginsberg/Getty Images
Photo by Gabe Ginsberg/Getty Images

You pull over to the side of the road.

Yikes, It’s You That’s Being Pulled Over

As you move to the side of the road, you realize that you’re the one the police officer is pulling over!

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Photo by Gregory Rec/Portland Press Herald via Getty Images
Photo by Gregory Rec/Portland Press Herald via Getty Images

“Oh no!” You think to yourself, becoming anxious as you see the police officer pull up behind you and get out of his car.

The Officer Touches Your Tail Light

You watch through the mirror – the officer walks toward your car.

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Boone County Missouri Sheriff’s Department
Boone County Missouri Sheriff’s Department

Then, he places his hand on the back of your car – specifically on the tail light – before making his way to talk to you.

You’re Curious…

You’ve never been pulled over before and are perplexed – “why did the officer touch my car?” You think to yourself.

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Unsplash/Luke Ellis
Unsplash/Luke Ellis

And you’re about to ask the officer, but you completely forget when you start interacting with the cop and are issued a ticket.

All In The Name Of Safety?

Being a police officer comes with its fair share of dangers, but how dangerous is pulling someone over in their car?

police officer glancing
Photo Credit: Rosemary Ketchum / Pexels
Photo Credit: Rosemary Ketchum / Pexels

According to the CDC, between 2011-2020 454 officers died due to motor vehicle related crashes, which accounts for 33% of all line-of-duty deaths. But does this have anything to do with them pulling you over?

8% Of Line-Of-Duty Deaths

You may be surprised, but pulling someone over is more dangerous than we assume.

police officer arresting someone
Photo Credit: Rosemary Ketchum / Pexels
Photo Credit: Rosemary Ketchum / Pexels

It’s pretty shocking, but of those 33% of officers killed in the line-of-duty, 8% of those deaths are caused by officers being struck by vehicles while they’re on foot.

States Are Actively Working To Keep Officers Safe

Because of how dangerous pulling someone over is for the officer, every state except for DC has something called a “Move Over Law”.

move over states that have laws
Photo Credit: Moveoveramerica
Photo Credit: Moveoveramerica

This law requires drivers to change lanes and move over to give officers space when they’re pulled over on the roadside.

But There Are Other Dangers With Pulling Someone Over

Even though the Move Over Laws exist to protect officers, there is still a huge risk factor that they face when pulling someone over.

black and white police officers
Photo Credit: pedro18 / Pexels
Photo Credit: pedro18 / Pexels

You’d be surprised to know being struck by a moving vehicle is far from the only danger they face.

The Internet Has All The Answers!

Thankfully, you don’t have to wonder what those dangers are and why the officer touched your taillight for long.

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Unsplash/Natasha Hall
Unsplash/Natasha Hall

You don’t have to ask the officer why they touched your tail light, just check the internet for the answers to your query!

Surprise! Did I Startle You?

Startling the driver is one of the main reasons why police officers tap tail lights.

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Photo by Steve Russell/Toronto Star via Getty Images
Photo by Steve Russell/Toronto Star via Getty Images

Most of the time the driver is not expecting the noise so their reaction gives the police officer some time to observe the driver.

The Tail Light Tapping Trick Started a Long Time Ago

After a quick search, you find that cops have been “tail light tapping” for years!

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Photo by Hulton Archive/Getty Images
Photo by Hulton Archive/Getty Images

And its practice aids police officers because there is always a potential risk of danger.

Well Before Body Cams, Tail Tapping Was The OG Surveillance Technique

Body cams, dash cams, and other surveillance techniques give the officer insight into who you are, but tail tapping was the “oldschool” method before these.

cops chest transmitter
Photo Credit: Kindel Media / Pexels
Photo Credit: Kindel Media / Pexels

Some officers may still tap your tail as well as wear a camera to get real-time information about who they’re pulling over.

You Can Tell A Lot About A Person…

Police officers always need to assess situations quickly as they approach a vehicle.

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Photo By Andy Cross/The Denver Post via Getty Images
Photo By Andy Cross/The Denver Post via Getty Images

And a tail light tap can tell the police officer information about the driver that they just pulled over.

…By How They React

When the officer taps on the tail light they consider several situations.

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Photo by Bauer-Griffin/GC Images
Photo by Bauer-Griffin/GC Images

How does the driver react? Did they get startled? Or were they distracted by something else? Is the driver under the influence? Or hiding a weapon?

Don’t Be Suspicious, Don’t Be Suspicious…

So if the driver is handling illegal items like drugs, ammunition, or guns, their reaction to the officer’s tail light tap will tell the officer if the driver is trying to hide anything.

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Photo by Bauer-Griffin/GC Images
Photo by Bauer-Griffin/GC Images

It’s a proven method!

They’re Always Watching

While a driver might think that they have a few moments to clean up their car, the officer is already watching.

cops chilling together
Photo Credit: cottonbro / Pexels
Photo Credit: cottonbro / Pexels

So don’t suddenly scramble, because someone is always paying attention.

It’s Super Effective!

This tactic has proven to be particularly effective.

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Photo by Marvin Joseph/The The Washington Post via Getty Images
Photo by Marvin Joseph/The The Washington Post via Getty Images

It has led to an increase in the arrest of intoxicated drivers, an increase in the arrest of sellers of prohibited substances, and an increase in the arrest of people found in possession of unlicensed firearms.

Police Officers Are Always at Risk

This practice has proven effective in catching suspicious drivers off guard.

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Photo By Karl Gehring/The Denver Post via Getty Images
Photo By Karl Gehring/The Denver Post via Getty Images

But there’s an even more important reason officers touch your tail light, and it has to do with protecting themselves.

Fingerprints Leave Evidence

Another reason an officer taps a tail light is to leave their fingerprints on the car.

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Photo by Pat Greenhouse/The Boston Globe via Getty Images
Photo by Pat Greenhouse/The Boston Globe via Getty Images

This is helpful in extreme circumstances where the officer could find themselves in a dangerous situation, or they never make it back to the station after their shift.

The Scene of the Crime!

Let’s say an officer pulled someone over and had just tapped the driver’s tail light. However, this driver was dangerous; and it led to an accident with the officer now in a hospital.

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Photo by Gregory Rec/Portland Press Herald via Getty Images
Photo by Gregory Rec/Portland Press Herald via Getty Images

Luckily, since the fingerprints were left on the car, the police have evidence that this was the car at the scene of a criminal investigation.

Though Its Not A Sure-Fire Way

However, this fingerprint tactic is not a sure-fire way to gather evidence.

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Photo By Karl Gehring/The Denver Post via Getty Images
Photo By Karl Gehring/The Denver Post via Getty Images

Unfortunately, there is always the possibility that the fingerprints were tampered with or smudged; or washed away by rain or snow.

What’s In The Trunk?

If a police officer believes that they are in a dangerous situation when they pull someone over, they will also touch the trunk to ensure it is latched.

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Photo by Marvin Joseph/The The Washington Post via Getty Images
Photo by Marvin Joseph/The The Washington Post via Getty Images

This is to ensure that no one is hiding or going to hop out of the trunk to harm the officer.

Partners Watch Eachother’s Backs

While one officer checks to ensure the trunk is locked, their partner will typically come up and talk to the driver.

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Photo by John Patriquin/Portland Press Herald via Getty Images
Photo by John Patriquin/Portland Press Herald via Getty Images

This will ensure a dangerous driver does not grab a weapon or get away while the other officer checks the trunk.

Dashcams Deliver Documentation

Of course, the practice of tail light tapping was more vital before technology brought us the dash cam.

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Photo by John Patriquin/Portland Press Herald via Getty Images
Photo by John Patriquin/Portland Press Herald via Getty Images

Although many police officers are still instructed to tap drivers’ tail lights, they also have dash-cams (and sometimes police body cams) to record every interaction.

Tail Light Tapping is Still a Thing

As it turns out, tail light tapping is not just about catching the driver off guard, but also an important safety practice for police officers.

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Photo by John Patriquin/Portland Press Herald via Getty Images
Photo by John Patriquin/Portland Press Herald via Getty Images

It might just be the oldest trick in the book.