Ever Wondered Why Cops Touch Your Tail Light When They Pull You Over?

Ever Wondered Why Cops Touch Your Tail Light When They Pull You Over?
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Tapping the Tail Light

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If you’ve been unlucky enough to be pulled over by a cop, you may have noticed them do something strange…tapping your tail light. Now, you may get nervous when a police officer begins to touch your vehicle, they also seem to take their time when it comes to writing you a ticket.

However, there’s a reason behind it all we promise.

A Reason Behind It

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When it comes to the infamous tail light tapping, there’s a very extensive history behind it. The act actually goes back to the early days when police officers first began patrolling the streets and highways.

Before the Dash Cam

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Tail light tapping was used more prior to the age of dash cams. Cops began doing this because they wanted to catch the driver or passenger off guard. Many times when people are pulled over, they try to hide illegal contraband or drugs before the cop reaches the window.

Startling the Criminals

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When the officer tapped on the tail light, the hope was it would startle the passengers in the vehicle and they would be caught red handed. Pretty sneaky right? With the driver startled, it was easier for the cop to make an arrest and confiscate anything that was illegal.

A Shocking Fact

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Are you ready to have your mind blown? Another reason the police tap your tail light is to leave evidence that they were there. You never know if a driver is completely twisted and out of their mind and might try to get away with murder.

Leaving Evidence Behind

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Let’s just say the officer approaches the vehicle and is shot or even worse…killed…their fingerprints are now on the car. Crazy, right? We had no idea this was something that officers did, but it allows an investigation to find whoever was responsible for the incident.

An Old Practice

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Thankfully, with the installation of dash cams on officer vehicles, there really is no need for tail tapping anymore. Of course, some police officers still do it, but it’s completely unnecessary. We’re guessing some old habits are just too tough to shake.

A Dangerous Practice

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Sometimes tail tapping can actually be dangerous for the police officer. Why? Well, it alerts the driver to the officer’s exact location. If they happened to be a criminal, the cop’s life could be on the line, especially if it’s dark.

Please, No More

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With the violence against police officers at an all-time high, many police departments are asking their officers to stop tail light tapping completely. There is absolutely no need to give the driver (especially a crooked one) an advantage over the officer as they approach them. However, some officers just can’t let it go.

Cops and Their Rituals

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As we’ve mentioned before, there really is no need for tail light tapping anymore, but some police officers consider it a rite of passage. They feel it’s a way to honor the officers that came before them. So, they continue to do it.

Benefits of Tapping

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Some police officers still believe that the tail light tapping is efficient during routine stops. They claim it has increased their arrest numbers of intoxicated drivers, drug dealers, and those with unlicensed firearms. Interesting, right?

Fleeing the Scene

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Some drivers think they’re pretty crafty and will speed off before the officer can write them a ticket. A stupid move that’s for sure. However, if the officer has tapped their tail light, they can easily identify the car that sped away if they happen to come across two cars that look identical.

Beyond Tail Light Tapping

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Some officers not only tap the tail light, but they push down on the trunk lid as well. No, they aren’t trying to create new dents in your car, they are just checking to make sure no one pops out of the trunk in an ambush.

Yes, this actually happens.

Working Together

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Some police officers patrol with partners and utilize trunk tapping and tail light tapping to check what the driver may or may not have in their lap. While one officer taps on the trunk, the other officer will check out the driver while they are momentarily distracted.

Invented in the 1960s

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The practice of tail light and trunk tapping was originally implemented back in the 1960s and 70s. During this time, radical crime groups patrolled the streets and would ambush officers when pulled over. Thankfully, trunks are designed a bit differently today and popping out of them isn’t so easy.

New Training in the Academy

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Today, police academy instructors do not promote the practice of trunk tapping or tail light tapping. They suggest officers not only not touch the rear of the vehicle, but they should remain away from it is as well. This is just in case the driver decides to back up and run over the police officer.

Checking the Backseat

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Some police officers tap tail lights to give them some time to check the backseat. You never know who might be hiding back there or what illegal items may be stashed away. By tapping the tail light, they can act like they’re performing a routine procedure, rather than snooping around the driver’s car.

Dirty Uniform Problems

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While not as serious as being shot at, tail light tapping can run the risk of making the officer’s uniform dirty. Since they are required to hug the vehicle with the side of their body as they tap the tail light, it can allow whatever is on the car to rub off on them.

A Common Misconception

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Most people have thought that tapping the tail light was the cop trying to see if it was working. Heck, we’ve been pulled over at times only to be alerted we had a tail light out and never even knew it. It seems this practice really should go away because it’s not only confusing but apparently super dangerous.

Don’t Worry About It

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So, the next time you’re pulled over and a police officer taps your tail light…don’t freak out! It’s just a simple and standard procedure. Also, please don’t keep illegal stuff in your vehicle, you will have a lot more to worry about than some simple tail light tapping.

Strategic Tactics


There are many other things that officers do to keep themselves safe during a traffic stop. A lot of them are strategic and sometimes, you don’t even know why they’re doing it. Tapping tail lights isn’t the only way officers make sure the stop will go in their favor. In fact, there are many things cops do to try and catch people in the act, and a lot of them are surprising.

One Step Ahead


Officers, whether alone or with a partner, have figured out many ways to keep themselves one step ahead of the person they’re pulling over. They will always keep their cars running to ensure that if the suspect has fled, they can pursue them in a timely fashion. They even leave their doors open so they can access their radios in case of an emergency. What this means for you? It’s an indication of what they’re thinking about–they’re assuming you’re armed and dangerous.

Tag Team


If their are two officers during a traffic stop, one will go to either sides of the vehicle to ensure they have eyes where necessary. They will almost always shine their flashlight into all windows, not to be rude as many people believe, but to see everyone and everything that is in the vehicle for their own safety. However, many times, they’ll come off as abrasive and down right rude because they’re feeling you out and checking for signs that you’re nervous about something.

Don’t Slam On Your Brakes


A lot of the time when people are speeding and they see a cop ahead of them, they’ll slam on the brakes. It may seem like a good idea, but in actuality they can see your front end dip, letting them know you’re drastically slowing down, aka, you were speeding. If you can, always stay under 10 MPH over the speed limit and if you are speeding, slow down gradually. Any change in behavior will alert them that you’re doing something illegal.

Rolling Deep


Cops are more likely to pull over a car full of four young men because on average, most crimes are committed by young males. If you are riding deep, it can help to have one of your passengers wearing a item of clothing that represents what you guys are doing or what you do for a living–like a construction jacket if you’re all carpooling home from a job. If you’re all just hanging out, the only thing you can do is don’t ride dirty and you shouldn’t have a problem.

Don’t Be Rude


At the end of the day, cops are just regular people trying to keep themselves and citizens safe. So if you don’t want to get into trouble, don’t have an attitude or be aggressive. Dale Carson an ex police officer for the Miami Dade County police department and alumni for the FBI says that cops are more likely to write you a ticket if you’re unnecessarily difficult, and chances are they’re going to be rude in the process–just don’t react.

He’s now a defense attorney in Florida, sharing some scary insider info with people on the reality of what police are thinking about.

The True Motivator


“The ranks of cops are young and competitive, they’re in competition with one another and intra-departmentally. It becomes a game. Policing isn’t about keeping streets safe, it’s about statistical success. The question for them is, Who can put the most people in jail?” he says. This is why it can seem that so many cops are bossy, aggressive, and insulting when questioning you during a traffic stop. They want you to react in a way that would allow them to arrest you or at the very least write you a ticket.

Luckily, if you keep cool and don’t let them annoy you into mouthing off, you can be on your merry way.

Be Invisible


Carson also states that the best thing you can do to avoid being arrested or ticketed, is to be invisible to the police. You can do this by driving a non-flashy car like a Honda Civic. Don’t drastically lower your car or tint the windows because this will make you more visible. Also, if you’re going to be doing something illegal, do it at home where you’re way less likely to be caught. Carson calls this the golden rule,”If police can’t see you, they can’t arrest you.”

Psychological Dominance


Carson also says that there are two things that cops are fighting for during an interaction, “psychological dominance and custody of your body.” He says they’re going to try and be dominant but there are times you should give in, in order to win war not the battle. “Being questioned by police is insulting,” Carson states, “It is, however, less insulting than being arrested. What I’m advising you to do when questioned by police is pocket the insult. This is difficult and emotionally painful.”

Tell The Truth


Surprisingly, he says you should always tell the truth when interacting with cops. They’re trained to sniff out lies, and in all honestly, it’s not hard to tell when someone is lying. He also says, while being honest and straightforward with cops, you shouldn’t smile,”Cops don’t like smiles.” Be dignified, unless it’s not going in your favor, then the best thing to do is to be submissive and beg, asking for alternatives to being arrested like a notice to appear.

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