If you’re nervous when you get pulled over by a cop, you’re not alone. Even though you may not have done anything wrong, it’s easy to still end up feeling guilty about something. Your jitters may get worse if you happen to spot the policeman walking towards you in the review mirror, only for him to suddenly stop and tap your taillight.
Why do cops do that? Well, he wasn’t trying to bust your light so he could fill his quota of traffic tickets! He also probably wasn’t expecting to hear a return tap from someone that you may have locked inside your trunk.
It may seem like just a little tap, but when an officer touches a taillight, it has more meaning than most people realize.
The ritual of tapping a taillight actually goes back to the good old days of policing the highways. Before the invention of dash cams, policemen were super sneaky with their tactics. But don’t worry, they weren’t crooked cops or doing anything illegal. In fact, these law enforcement officers were actually hoping to catch the driver or passengers unawares.
You see, it’s not uncommon for people to try and hide their illicit drugs or guns right after they are pulled over by a cop. Tapping the taillight has the benefit of startling these criminals before they can finish hiding their stash of ill-gotten goods.
There’s another reason why a policeman will tap the rear lights – it leaves behind evidence, and lots of it! Cameras weren’t always as inexpensive as they are now. That meant most police departments couldn’t afford to equip all their cruisers with a camera. Touching the taillights or the trunk meant that officers had forensic backup.
It’s kind of like a dog marking his territory, but cops leave their mark as a safety precaution – just in case! If the officer is attacked or happens to disappear, then his fingerprints could be used as proof that the car was somehow involved. Wow, I never would have expected this!
These days, most police cruisers come equipped with cameras, so it’s not necessary to leave fingerprints all over the place. Plus, car washes have become just as popular as dashboard cameras! Yet, some old-timers are still in the habit of tapping the taillights. In the end, it’s probably just a superstitious ritual that helps them feel safe.
However, some police departments are advising against this outdated ritual. In the dark, a taillight tap could “give away” a policeman’s position and make him an easy target, especially if any of the occupants are carrying a loaded weapon.
But, should your taillights get a good thumping the next time you get pulled over, at least you know why. You could even turn the tables around, and try to startle the police officer with your questions about the practice. Maybe he’ll get so distracted with your insider knowledge that he forgets to give you a ticket!