Do Cops Still Touch the Back of Cars During Traffic Stops?

traffic stop tap

Experiencing the sudden illumination of a police vehicle’s lights in your rearview mirror can certainly set your heart racing. Historically, it was common for a police officer to tap the taillight or another section of a vehicle’s rear during a traffic stop.

This was a standard procedure primarily carried out for safety reasons, which we’ll delve into in more detail. However, the question arises whether this practice is still prevalent among today’s law enforcement officers.

If it is, what is the rationale behind this seemingly peculiar behavior?

In the past, police officers would tap the taillight or another part of the car’s rear during a traffic stop. This was a routine part of their procedure, primarily carried out for safety reasons.

The tap served as a means of leaving the officer’s fingerprints on the car, which could be used as evidence in case something went wrong during the traffic stop. It was a way for the officers to protect themselves and ensure they had a trail to follow if an incident occurred.


There are three primary reasons why law enforcement officers may tap the rear of a vehicle during a traffic stop:

  1. Verification of a Secure Trunk
  2. Establishing Physical Evidence
  3. Psychological Tactic

Despite the evolution of technology, such as dashboard cameras and body-worn cameras, some police officers continue to follow the practice of touching the taillight or another part of the back of a car during a traffic stop. These technological advancements provide a comprehensive record of the traffic stop, making the need for physical evidence like fingerprints less necessary.

However, the practice persists, either due to ingrained habits, traditional training, or the belief in its psychological impact.

In the modern era, while the practice of touching the back of a vehicle during a traffic stop might seem outdated, it still serves a purpose for some officers. The reasons behind it are multifaceted, ranging from ensuring physical safety to psychological tactics.

Even as technology continues to advance and reshape law enforcement practices, some traditional methods like this one persist, highlighting the complex and evolving nature of police work.

1. Ensuring the Vehicle’s Trunk is Secure

traffic stop

Although it might seem like a scene straight out of a movie, there’s a slim chance that someone could be concealed within the trunk of a vehicle. This individual could potentially spring out as the police officer approaches the car, creating a dangerous situation.

To mitigate this risk, a police officer might tap or touch the trunk during a traffic stop to confirm that it’s securely closed and latched. These procedures are crucial not only for the safety of the individual being stopped but also for the officer’s protection.

While it might seem far-fetched, it’s essential to ensure that no one is preparing to leap out from the trunk and that it’s securely fastened.” This practice underscores the meticulous and safety-oriented approach that law enforcement officers take during traffic stops, even accounting for unlikely scenarios.

2. Leaving Behind Tangible Evidence of Presence


The second rationale for police officers tapping the taillight or another part of a vehicle’s rear during a traffic stop is to leave behind fingerprint evidence. This tangible proof can confirm the officer’s presence at the scene.

In the event of a criminal investigation involving a driver and a police officer, such as a car accident or a shooting, these fingerprints could serve as crucial evidence. Trooper Montiero elaborated on this, stating, “When an officer touches the rear of the vehicle, it leaves their fingerprints on the car, establishing that they were indeed present at that location.”

He further explained, “In scenarios where the driver might decide to flee the scene, or if something were to happen to the officer, this act ties both the vehicle and the officer together. It’s one of the numerous measures taken during traffic stops to ensure the safety of all parties involved.”

This practice underscores the importance of evidence collection in law enforcement, even during routine traffic stops. It serves as a testament to the meticulous and safety-oriented approach that police officers adopt, ensuring that they leave behind a trail of evidence that could potentially be crucial in future investigations.

3. Utilizing the Element of Surprise to Detect Prohibited Items

Police Blurred

The third reason for police officers tapping the taillight or another part of a vehicle’s rear during a traffic stop is to catch drivers off guard. Traffic stops can potentially escalate into dangerous situations, especially if the driver is in possession of prohibited items such as firearms, ammunition, or illegal substances.

A driver harboring such items would likely attempt to conceal them before the officer approaches their window. The act of touching the back of a car serves as a tactic to counter this issue.

The unexpected tap can startle the driver, causing them to momentarily pause. This brief pause provides the officer with an opportunity to observe the driver’s actions and detect any attempts to hide illicit items.

This strategy underscores the psychological tactics employed by law enforcement during traffic stops. By inducing a moment of surprise, officers can gain a crucial window of time to assess the situation and detect any suspicious behavior, further ensuring the safety of all parties involved.


What should I do if I’m nervous during a traffic stop?

If you’re nervous during a traffic stop, try to stay calm. Keep your hands visible, follow the officer’s instructions, and avoid making sudden movements. Remember, the officer is also concerned about their safety, so cooperation can help ensure a smooth interaction.

How can I avoid getting pulled over by the police?

The best way to avoid getting pulled over is to obey traffic laws. This includes not speeding, using your turn signals, not driving under the influence of drugs or alcohol, and keeping your vehicle in good working order (e.g., ensuring your lights are functioning correctly).

What are my rights during a traffic stop?

During a traffic stop, you have the right to remain silent and the right to refuse a search of your vehicle. However, if the police officer has probable cause to believe there’s evidence of a crime in your vehicle, your vehicle can be searched without your consent. If you’re arrested, you have the right to a lawyer.

Can a police officer search my trunk without my consent?

Generally, a police officer cannot search your trunk without your consent unless they have probable cause to believe there’s evidence of a crime in your vehicle. If they have probable cause, they can search your vehicle without your consent.

Can a police officer arrest me if they find something illegal in my car during a traffic stop?

Yes, if a police officer finds something illegal in your car during a traffic stop, such as drugs or unregistered firearms, they can arrest you. It’s important to remember that anything illegal found in your vehicle can be used as evidence against you in court.

What should I do if I believe a police officer has acted inappropriately during a traffic stop?

If you believe a police officer has acted inappropriately during a traffic stop, you should file a complaint with the police department. You may also want to consult with a legal professional to understand your rights and options.

Final Words

The Law Dictionary explains that the tactic of inducing surprise during traffic stops has proven highly beneficial, leading to increased apprehension of intoxicated drivers, individuals involved in illegal drug activities, those carrying unlicensed firearms, and other traffic-related offenses.

When you are pulled over by a police officer, you may notice the officer tapping the rear of your vehicle. This action serves three primary purposes: firstly, to ensure the trunk is securely closed for safety reasons; secondly, to leave behind fingerprint evidence for potential investigations; and finally, to catch drivers off guard, especially those who might be concealing prohibited items.

These tactics play a crucial role in enhancing freeway and highway safety, creating a safer environment for all drivers and pedestrians. In our efforts to improve overall safety, we should also consider investing in advanced technologies for traffic monitoring, promoting defensive driving education, and ensuring proper road infrastructure maintenance.

Drivers must be aware of traffic laws, adhere to speed limits, and refrain from driving under the influence of alcohol or drugs. By employing such multi-faceted strategies, law enforcement officers aim to enhance safety and enforce the law effectively during traffic stops

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