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Why Does Law Enforcement Touch Your Vehicle?

Watch footage of any traffic stop, and you’ll likely see law enforcement officers putting their hands on the car they’re approaching. 

You’re not alone if you’ve ever witnessed this and wondered what it’s all about. 

Today, we’re getting to the bottom of this strange but common tactic to answer all your questions.

Let’s get into it!

What Are the Most Common Reasons to Get Pulled Over?

Police officers have plenty of reasons to pull over drivers. Without a doubt, speeding is the number one cause. It’s easy for speed to get away from you, especially if you aren’t using cruise control. And for others, the thrill of putting the pedal to the metal is simply too much to resist. 

Distracted driving is another common reason to see blue lights in your rearview mirror. Most of us don’t leave the house without our cell phones.

Unfortunately, some folks can’t take their eyes off the screen, even if it could result in a dangerous collision. 

Of course, some states are stricter than others. In some, you won’t get pulled over unless you’re actively texting. Whereas, in others, an officer might fire up their sirens if you’re merely talking on your phone. 

You can expect them to pull you over if you have faulty equipment on your ride. Busted tail lights, broken side mirrors, and cracked windshields could get you in trouble. 

And don’t even think about letting your tags expire. That little sticker on your license plate can cause an expensive hassle if you forget to renew on time. 

Cops won’t necessarily know that your driver’s license is expired until they see it. But if they catch you, it’ll be another hefty fee. 

Other violations include tailgating the driver in front of you, dark tint on your windows, and failing to wear a seatbelt. It could even be a case of mistaken identity, where your vehicle matches the description of a known offender.

car in pursuit

Top Reasons Why Police Put Their Hands on Your Car

Regardless of why an officer might stop you, one thing is consistent. When the law enforcement officer walks up to your car, they’ll probably put their hands on it. Here are three reasons for this eyebrow-raising practice. 

Police Put Their Hands on Your Car to Leave Fingerprints

It’s no secret that police officers have a dangerous job. They can never know what they’re getting into when approaching a vehicle. That’s one reason law enforcement might put their hands on your car. 

Leaving fingerprints behind indicates they had some sort of contact with the driver. Any number of things could go wrong. The driver could take off or dispute that the incident ever occurred. In some cases, violence could erupt. Investigators can use these prints to link the officer and the vehicle if things go south.

At the end of the day, this measure helps ensure the safety of everyone involved. 

They May Touch Your Trunk to Make Sure It’s Latched

When officers touch the trunk of your car with their hands, they’re also making sure the latch is secured correctly. Sure, you’d probably know if it was open because you couldn’t see out your rearview mirror. But this measure is mainly for the officer’s safety. 

While it sounds too wild to be true, we’ve heard of cases where someone with bad intentions hid in the back of a vehicle. These incidents are rare, but many cops play by the rules of “better safe than sorry.” If someone were holding the latch in place, it’d become apparent pretty quickly. 

Police May Tap Your Tail Light to Surprise You

Cops must be ready for anything during traffic stops, including a driver carrying illicit items. If a cop taps on your trunk or tail light, they might be trying to buy themselves a little extra time. 

An unexpected bang can distract a driver who’s trying to conceal weapons, drugs, or empty liquor bottles before the officer makes it to the window. This split-second diversion could be all the time a cop needs to catch a perp in the act.

So while placing their hands on your car is often about safety, it’s also a way to help enforce the law. 

What Should You Do If a Police Officer Puts a Hand on Your Car?

You must follow specific protocols if you’re pulled over while driving. Although the media often portrays cops as hardened stoics, they can be nervous when approaching someone who may wish them harm.

Don’t give them any reason to be jittery, as this can raise tensions for everyone. 

When the sirens sound behind you, put on your turn signal and pull to the side of the road. If you don’t feel safe pulling over, slow down, hit your flashers, and call 911 so they can tell the officer you’ll stop as soon as possible. 

Once you’ve parked, roll down your windows, kill the engine, and put your keys on the dashboard so they know you’re not a flight risk. If it’s after dark, turn on your interior lights. 

Keep your hands on the steering wheel instead of fumbling around for your license. If you give the officer a reason to think you’re hiding something, a quick traffic stop could become a lengthy vehicle search. 

After that, it’s all about staying polite and following instructions. They’ll ask for your license, registration, and insurance proof, so keeping all necessary documents together in your glove box is good. They’ll return to their cruiser to verify your information.

Depending on the situation, the officer may let you off with a warning or issue a ticket. They may even tell you to have a nice day and leave it at that. 

No matter the outcome, don’t argue. If you disagree with a citation, you can contest it in court. But chances are, if you raise a stink, you’ll only prolong your time on the side of the road. 

Is It Still Common for Police to Put Their Hands on Your Car?

While this practice goes back decades, new technology is replacing the tactic. In places where traffic cameras help enforce the law, officers may not need to touch your car. Dash and body cams also record events, so leaving fingerprints behind isn’t always necessary. 

Of course, different jurisdictions have different procedures.

Although an officer in one town may do it, it might be unheard of across county lines. Other precincts may instruct officers not to put themselves directly behind a vehicle that could run them over. 

Ultimately, most places are phasing out this tactic, but some seasoned officers may continue to do it out of habit. 

Cops Put Their Hands On Your Car for Safety

Don’t be alarmed if a law enforcement officer puts their hand on your car during a traffic stop. This age-old practice helps ensure the safety of officers and the public alike. 

If you find yourself on the wrong end of a traffic stop, remember to stay calm, be polite, and follow instructions. After all, most officers are trying to keep everyone safe, including you.

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