I cannot personally remember the last time I was actually pulled over. Had to have been years ago at this point.
That being said, other than asking for license and registration it seems that there was always something that the officer pulling me over did every single time.
For whatever reason, they would lightly tap their fingers on the taillight before they came up to the car. The only time that I do not remember it happening was the time I got into a small car accident and the reasoning was that there wasn’t exactly any way I was going to be getting away any time soon.
Asking a driver for their license and registration is common procedure from police officers during traffic stops. There’s another practice that was once standard across the force but is more of a mystery to the people being pulled over: While approaching a driver’s window, officers will sometimes touch a car’s taillight.
It’s a behavior that dates back decades, though there’s no reason to be concerned if it happens at your next traffic stop.
Before cameras were installed on the dashboards of most police cars, tapping the taillight was an inconspicuous way for officers to leave behind evidence of the encounter, according to The Law Dictionary. If something were to happen to the officer during the traffic stop, their interaction with the driver could be traced back to the fingerprints left on the vehicle.
This would help other police officers track down a missing member of the force even without video proof of a crime.
The action also started as a way for officers to spook drivers before reaching their window. A pulled-over motorist with a car full of illegal drugs or weapons might scramble to hide any incriminating materials before the officer arrives. The surprise of hearing a knock on their taillight might disrupt this process, increasing their likelihood of getting caught.
Today the risks of this strategy are thought to outweigh the benefits. Touching a taillight poses an unnecessary distraction for officers, not to mention it can give away their position, making them more vulnerable to foul play. And with dash cams now standard in most squad cars, documenting each incident with fingerprints isn’t as necessary as it once was.