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Why Do Police Touch Your Car? Is It a Habit or a Necessity?

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During a pullover, a police officer will always ask a driver for their license and registration. But have you ever noticed them touching your car’s tail light? If so, you might wonder why do police touch your car. Even though it looks so subtle, it’s a security protocol followed by US Police. Read to know more. 

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Why do police touch your car? 

When police officer stops a car, they casually touch the trunk as they walk up to it. This gesture is common enough to make it clear that it’s not a one-off thing. A police officer knows that there is always the risk of danger, especially with violence against police increasing yearly. Touching or tapping a tail light can tell officers a lot about the person they’ve stopped over. Therefore, police need to be able to assess a car promptly before approaching it. 

The move is part of a protocol used in the US and other places. To be more precise, the officer usually walks up to the driver’s side trunk. And puts one hand on the back end. But why? Here’s why: 

To startle drivers if they have anything illegal in possession 

During a traffic stop, there is a chance of the driver being a criminal with illegal possession. This includes guns, bullets, drugs, or anything against the law. If a driver has something illegal, they may want to hide it before the police officer comes up to the window.  The tap might come as a surprise to the driver. 


So, when it does happen, the cop will likely scare them. After that, the driver will stop for a moment. The short pause gives the police officer time to see if the driver is trying to hide anything. This simple tactic has made it easier to catch drunk drivers, people who sell illegal drugs and own guns without a license. But touching one’s car is still dangerous for a cop as it gives away the police officer’s location and makes them an easy target. 

To check that the trunk is closed and nothing is hidden inside 

Tapping on a tail light might scare the driver, but there’s more to it. If the police officer pulling you over thinks they are in danger, they may touch the back of the car on the way to the driver’s window to make sure the trunk is closed. This may seem strange, but it makes sure no one is hiding in the trunk, as they can pop out. And the tapping is done with this intention. 


If a police officer does check to see if your trunk is closed, they usually do it with a partner. One officer will look in your trunk while the other comes up to your window. This confirms the safety of the officers. And makes sure the driver can’t hide something or get a weapon while the officer checks the trunk. 

To leave their fingerprints as evidence in case of crime 

Trooper Steve Montiero, a traffic safety expert for News 6, said that the cops touch your car for a less obvious reason, which is to leave evidence. He said that if an officer touches the back of a car, for example, his or her fingerprints will be left behind as evidence that the police were present. It connects the car and the police in the event that the driver decides to escape the scene or the officer is injured. That’s one of the many precautions taken at traffic stops to make sure everyone gets home safely. 


When police touch your car, it also leaves their fingerprints on the car. If the officer stopped the car and found himself in a dangerous situation, fingerprint evidence would show that they were there. The fingerprints would only be used if the interaction eventually leads to a crime making it a crime scene that needs investigation. But this doesn’t always help with an investigation because fingerprints can be changed or smudged, and rain or snow can wash them away. Most of the time, fingerprints on the car are not the best way for police to find evidence at a car crime scene. 

Do they only target the tail lights? 

It might seem harmless for a cop to touch the tail light when they pull you over, but it isn’t. Tail light tapping could put police in danger. Some police departments advise their officers not to touch the tail light, while others tell them to touch the side of the car and not the back.  If the officer touched the tail light, they would be right behind the car. The officer could get hurt if the driver put the car in reverse. As scary as it sounds, these things happen. And when police officers approach a car, they must always be ready for the worst. 

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Do police officers still touch your car? 

Crimes that happen on the road are increasing. Which means police are in more danger than they used to be. Instead of doing this, they now use new technology to ensure traffic rules are followed. 

Now, security cameras are on almost every corner of the road. And it’s standard for all police officers to have dash cams or body cams. It records live video of the car and every interaction between the driver and the officer. This confirms that the original reason why tailgating was done is no longer a problem. 

Some police departments still tell their officers to leave fingerprint evidence on the car, but it doesn’t have to be a tail light always. If you get pulled over and observe the officer touching your tail light, know that it’s probably more out of habit than necessity. 

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