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Why Do Police Touch Your Car When They Stop You?

Why Do Police Touch Your Car When They Stop You?

Did you ever notice that police touch your car when they pull you over? Please keep reading to discover the secret behind this move and why they always touch the back of the vehicle. Also, learn whether touching your car could save a police officer’s life.

Let’s start by investigating a cop’s procedure when pulling you over. Buckle up and stay within the speed limit. Here we go! 

This is Why Cops Touch Your Tail Light When They Pull You Over

When a Cop Pulls You Over

When the police pull a vehicle over on a roadway, they assess the situation and whether they have a reason for the traffic stop. They must have probable cause for stopping a car. The reason must be without bias, reasonable, and specific. 

The most common reasons for a traffic stop are a traffic law violation, a broken brake light, or suspicion of drunk or drugged driving due to driving behavior. Other reasons are suspicion the driver committed a crime, the driver has active warrants, or the driver witnessed a crime. The bottom line is the police can’t pull a vehicle over for no reason.

The cop will turn their flashing lights on when pulling over a vehicle and follow it until it stops safely on the side of the road or in a parking lot. Once they have confirmed it’s safe to get out of the police car, the officer approaches the vehicle they pulled over. When doing so, the cop touches the back of the car or tail light with one hand. 

Police officers standing by vehicle at a traffic stop
Police may touch the back of your car for a variety of reasons, like leaving fingerprints or checking that the trunk is fully latched.

Why Do Police Touch Your Car When They Stop You?

It may seem strange for a police officer to touch a car when they’re approaching the driver’s window. But there are a few good reasons.

1. To Surprise You

One of the reasons a police officer touches the back of a car upon approach is to surprise the driver. They don’t do it funnily but to startle the driver or passengers who might have illegal items. The body language, action, or verbal cues a person gives when this happens can be very telling. A person may quickly give away that there are illegal substances or items in the vehicle, which will direct the process the officer takes from there.

2. To Leave a Fingerprint

Another reason police touch the back of a vehicle during a traffic stop is to leave their fingerprint. Leaving a fingerprint provides evidence if the car flees the scene or the officer becomes incapacitated. So, if there’s a criminal investigation, there’s evidence on the vehicle. For example, it could be helpful when looking into a car accident or a shooting. It gives proof that the vehicle encountered law enforcement.

3. Check the Trunk Is Latched

A final reason why police touch your car is to make sure you latched the trunk. They do this to check if anyone is hiding in or stuck in the trunk. If there is someone inside, they could jump out at the police officer and harm them. So, touching the trunk assures the officer that they can continue approaching the vehicle safely. If someone is trying to get out, police may hear or feel strange movements.

Pro Tip: If you get a knock on your RV door, you’ll want to know Can Police Search My RV Without a Warrant? Find out!

Police officer talking to driver at traffic stop
While police won’t always touch the back of your car, don’t be startled if they do.

Do Police Always Touch the Back of the Car?

Police don’t always touch the back of the vehicle. While it is a common practice, it doesn’t happen every time. Modern technology, like dashboard cameras, can now identify vehicles during investigations. So touching the back of a pulled-over car is somewhat unnecessary; however, it’s a safeguard in case technology fails.

Can Touching the Taillight Save a Cop’s Life?

Another reason why police touch your car is that it can save their life. For example, if someone were hiding in the trunk and they detected it by touching the vehicle, it could save the officer from getting ambushed. Additionally, if an investigation or criminal activity occurs, investigators can identify the officer and vehicle from their fingerprints. Additionally, how the driver reacts to the touch can give vital clues to how the exchange will go and allow officers to further gauge the situation.

Police car pulling over speeding vehicle
If you notice flashing lights in your mirror, pull over safely and turn off your vehicle.

How Should You Respond to Being Pulled Over?

Knowing how to respond if the police pull over your vehicle is crucial. Let’s look at the four main behaviors you should display in this situation. 

Pull Your Vehicle Over to a Safe Place and Turn It Off

As soon as the police car lights flash, slow down and pull your vehicle to a safe place. Ensure the location is safe for you and the officer who will need to walk up to your car. Once you’ve come to a complete stop, turn off your engine and stay inside the vehicle. 

Stay in the Vehicle With Your Hands on the Steering Wheel

After you are entirely stopped and have turned off your engine, stay seated in your vehicle with your hands on the steering wheel. Having your hands on the steering wheel allows the police officer to see your hands and ensures the officer’s safety. For example, they won’t suspect you’re holding a weapon. 

Two police officers writing traffic ticket
Remain calm and polite when interacting with the police even if they touch your car.

Provide the Officer With Your Driver’s License, Registration, and Proof of Insurance Upon Request

When the police officer asks for your driver’s license, registration, and proof of insurance, provide it immediately. This is standard procedure, and you must comply. Police are also within the law to ask for your name, address, and age. 

Remain Calm and Answer the Officer’s Questions Honestly

It’s vital to remain calm and polite when the police pull you over and touch your car. Be honest. Police academies train officers to become suspicious and detect dishonesty. 

Police can ask you anything, including asking to search your vehicle, but you’re not required to answer except for giving your identification. They are also within their rights to pat you down. But unless they arrest you, they can’t do anything else. However, they can search your vehicle if you are on a public roadway and they have probable cause. If they see something illegal in the car through the windows, that is considered probable cause to perform a search.

Pro Tip: We uncovered If You Are Allowed to Drive Naked to ensure you avoid any awkward run-ins with the police.

5 Things To Do When The Police Pull You Over

Next Time, Watch for the Taillight Touch

The next time the police pull you over, watch for the tail light touch. Now you know why police touch your car, and hopefully how to act to ensure a smooth exchange with the officer. 

It’s best to prevent having to see a cop touch your car. You can do this by maintaining your vehicle, driving the speed limit, and following all traffic laws. Of course, never drink or do drugs when driving. 

Has a police officer ever touched your car? Tell us in the comments!

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About Mortons on the Move

Tom & Caitlin Morton of Mortons on the Move gave up the stationary life for one where they are constantly on the move. They are full-time travelers, television hosts, and digital media producers.
They left their jobs, sold their house and possessions, and hit the road in September 2015 in their full-time “home on wheels”. Since then they have traveled the US, Canada, and even internationally by RV.
Now, they are Discovery Channel & PBS TV Co-stars of The RVers, producers of “Go North” on Amazon Prime, co-founders and instructors of RV Masterclass, and contributing authors for and an Arizona travel guide.

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Dominick Issi

Monday 16th of January 2023

Interesting read. However, you've introduced some advice which is not valid and MAY WELL get you into MORE legal jeopardy.

#1. ALWAYS video the police. There are TOO MANY instances where they tend to lie. It also lets them know they cannot claim either YOU did something or that they DIDN'T do or say something illegal to YOU!

#2. Per the 4th Amendment ... The right of the people to be secure in their persons, houses, papers, and effects, against unreasonable searches and seizures, shall not be violated, and no Warrants shall issue, but upon probable cause, supported by Oath or affirmation, and particularly describing the place to be searched, and the persons or things to be seized.

The above is known as RAS: "Reasonable Articulable Suspicion" is the belief by a reasonable person that the suspect violated a law or regulation. This standard is subjective; there is no bright line between what a reasonable person would or would not find to be evidence of a crime. To meet this standard, law enforcement officers must articulate the facts they believe show a suspect has committed a crime. This means you DO NOT have to give any of your information to the police UNLESS they have a valid reason when they stop you. "Suspicion" is NOT a valid reason. It must be a traffic VIOLATION or INFRACTION of some sort. Until they can SPECIFICALLY state the infraction, you DO NOT have to give ANY information. This also means that you DO NOT have to tell them anything such as when they question you with: "Where are you going?" "Where have you been?" OR any other question you might accept as benign to the stop. The LESS you tell them, the better off you will be. That is why we have the 5th Amendment. This also means they CANNOT LEGALLY search you vehicle unless you foolishly give your consent. Same with your person. I say "foolishly" as it is QUITE easy for them to plant items or totally trash your vehicle.

You are probably thinking ... this guy has a problem with the police. Well ... I've seen TOO MANY instances where police have knowingly broken our law/rules. Some quite frequently. I have at least 4 pages FULL of YouTube URLs where the police have broken at least one or all of our above Constitutional Rights. Not ALL police take advantage of people but those who do make it doubly-hard on who DON'T know their Constitutional Rights. Remember, when you give away your Constitutional Rights you may well lose them forever.

Jon Heil

Monday 16th of January 2023

Yup I figured the dirty swine leaving fingerprints so they dont end up in the back of the trunk! ha!

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