You’re cruising along down the highway when suddenly you notice flashing blue and red lights in the rear-view mirror. A quick glance at your speedometer shows that you were in fact speeding well above the posted limit, so you pull off to the side of the road. A short while later the officer who pulled you over exits the patrol car and approaches your driver’s side window. As the cop passes by your vehicle’s trunk area you notice something strange, the officer seems to have lightly tapped on your taillight. You think to yourself ‘what was that for,’ but soon forget about it as you hand the cop your license and information.
Even if the above taillight tapping scenario has never personally happened to you, perhaps you have seen it happen to someone else during a traffic stop. Or you might have picked up on it in older films and on television shows where cops were frequently shown doing the tap. Maybe you’ve never seen it anywhere, but now you know it’s a thing! Either way, it likely seems kind of strange and the natural human reaction is to think to yourself, what is the meaning of this action?
Barring anyone with family or close relatives who are cops, most people have never bothered or even had to chance to ask any law enforcement officers about it. With that in mind, here are the real reasons why cops tap on the taillights of vehicles they pull over.
Fingerprints and Trace Evidence: Tapping on a car taillight is an old-school thing to do and it originally began as a way to leave fingerprints and trace evidence behind on a vehicle. Back before law enforcement used dashboard and body cameras there was little that an officer could do to definitively establish that they had made contact with a particular car and its occupants. Cops made it a habit to tap the taillight as they approached in order to leave a fingerprint behind. That way, in case anything happened during a stop, there was evidence linking the officer to the car. In addition, marking the vehicle physically showed that a cop had approached the car and made it that far. If there was any issues down the line, at the very least that could be used to establish a rough timeline of events, which back in the day could prove crucial to a case.
Surprise Tactic: Perhaps the more relevant reason is that tapping on the taillight serves as a quick and easy way to get the occupant’s attention while simultaneously distracting them. Whoever is in the car, whether it be the driver or passengers, is momentarily thrown off guard and surprised by the action. If they were in the middle of trying to hide drugs or contraband, or reaching for a weapon, they’ll be interrupted and distracted. This little shock tactic works surprisingly well and countless people have been caught red-handed attempting to conceal their illegal ways because of it!
Those are the reasons why cops will sometimes tap one the taillights when they pull a car over. Please pass this information along so your friends and family can learn something new and if this should ever happen to you, don’t worry about it!
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