There is no difference between a ticket and a citation. In most areas, both terms refer to documents that outline traffic violations. A citation or ticket encompasses moving violations like speeding tickets or traffic citations. It also includes non-moving violations like parking tickets.

In this article, we'll cover:

Citations vs. tickets

Citations and tickets are ultimately the same thing in most places. However, in some jurisdictions, there are rules surrounding when a law enforcement officer will hand out a citation versus when they will issue a ticket. These are some exceptions:

  • Law enforcement officers in certain jurisdictions will only give you a citation after you’ve received several tickets.
  • A citation can require appearing in traffic court to determine guilt. Whereas a ticket just requires paying a fine.
  • Some jurisdictions only give citations out for serious offenses or repeated violations. For example, after several warnings for speeding, a citation could be issued.

Keep in mind that in most areas there is no difference between a ticket and a citation. If there is a difference, it’s is minimal.

Citation and ticket definition

A citation or ticket is a summons issued by law enforcement to somebody breaking traffic laws. Tickets and citations are documents that charge you with a violation of traffic law. For example, when a police officer pulls you over for running a stop sign, they will give you a document outlining the violation. This is the citation or ticket.

A traffic ticket is a piece of paper that the officer hands you that includes your name, your license number, the officer’s name, the violation, and other details. A citation number is usually located on the top right of your traffic ticket and it allows you to pay your fine online.

Traffic citation types

There are different types of tickets or citations that you can receive from a law enforcement officer. These types of traffic tickets fall into two categories:

  • Non-moving traffic violations: These are usually related to parking. You’ll receive a non-moving traffic citation for violations like parking too close to a stop sign or being parked longer than the meter allows. In many states, tickets from red light or speeding cameras are treated as non-moving violations. 
  • Moving traffic violations: When a driver breaks traffic laws when the car is in motion, it’s a moving violation. This includes driving faster than the speed limit, running a stop sign, or driving under the influence.

Do written warnings count as a ticket? 

No. A written warning is when a police officer pulls you over but doesn’t issue you a ticket or citation. You don’t need to do anything about these warnings, and they won’t be on your record. But it will be marked by law enforcement. It should serve as a warning that you shouldn’t repeat whatever traffic violation you were pulled over for. If you’re pulled over again for the same problem, you could be issued a penalty.

Penalties and fines for citations and tickets

You may be issued a ticket or citation that requires you pay a fine or another type of penalty. The penalties will vary depending on local laws, your driving record and the nature of the violation. For example, a speeding ticket requires a fee and potentially a court date. If you don’t pay the fine within the allotted time period, the fine amount could increase. You could also contest the charge in traffic court, which could result in the dismissal of the charge and any penalties if you’re found not guilty. The traffic violation will be on your record if you are found guilty, and it can lead to points on your driving and insurance records. And if you're a repeat offender with other violations on your record, the penalties may be harsher. 

What are criminal traffic violations?

Criminal traffic violations include:

  • Driving under the influence
  • Reckless driving
  • Operating a vehicle without insurance or a driver’s license

If you’re accused of a criminal traffic violation, you’re required to go to court and attend an arraignment. There, you will hear the charges against you, and you’ll plead guilty or not guilty. If you’re found guilty of a criminal traffic violation it will end up on your driving and criminal record.

Does a citation go on your record?

A traffic citation will go on your motor vehicle record (MVR) or even criminal record depending on the type of violation. For example, a speeding ticket usually stays on your driving record for three years. Depending on the state you live in, a traffic violation will add points to your license, which can add up to a suspended or revoked license.

If you plead guilty and pay the fine to a speeding ticket or other traffic violation, it will be noted in your MVR, but not your criminal record. If you're found guilty of a criminal traffic violation, it will not only go on your driving record but also on your criminal record (which will show up on a background check). These can be considered misdemeanor or even felony crimes. Also, if you decline to pay a ticket it could appear on your criminal record. A written warning will not go on your driving record. Depending on the jurisdiction you live in, there are a few ways to keep a ticket off your record:

  • Defensive driving courses
  • Pleading guilty but asking for leniency
  • Contesting the charge in court

Do citations increase car insurance rates?

If you’re found guilty of a traffic violation, the court will alert your DMV to update your driving record. Once it’s on your MVR, your insurance company will be able to see the citation. Insurance companies usually look at your record up to five years back. Our research found that car insurance with a bad driving record is significantly more expensive. Rates can increase by 35% for a speeding ticket and 132% after a DUI. 

For example, if you’ve had two speeding tickets before and this is your third, your rates could rise. Or, if you’re guilty of a serious citation like a DUI, your rates can skyrocket. However, if this is your first traffic infraction, your rates may not change, but it could disqualify you from discounts like safe driving discounts.

Getting citations or tickets can make car insurance expensive!

Compare quotes to find cheaper rates, even with a ticket on your record.

Ultimately, whether a citation will impact your auto insurance rates depends on your insurer. If your rates are automatically raised after a single traffic citation, consider shopping around and comparing quotes from different auto insurance companies.

Citations and tickets: the bottom line

Citations and tickets are essentially two words for the same thing. They are a form of legal punishment for violation traffic laws. The nature of the punishment depends on the type of violation as well as your driving history, and laws vary depending on where you live. In general, tickets for a moving violation are more severe than non-moving violations. And moving violations can come with expensive fines, and they'll likely result in an increase in your insurance rates. 

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