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Tickets vs. Citations: What's the Difference? (August 2022)

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JJ Starr

By: JJ Starr

Edited by Jackie Cohen

Last Updated June 15, 2022

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Insurify partners with top insurance companies and is a licensed agent in all 50 states. However, the insurance experts writing our content operate independently of our partners. Check out reviews from over 3,000 satisfied customers, how we make money, our data methodology, and our editorial standards.

Is there a difference between a ticket and a citation? And if so, what is the difference? This article will cover all the nuances you need to know about citations vs. tickets. By the end, you’ll have a better understanding of how they work and what you should do if you receive either one.

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Quick Facts

  • A citation is a written statement that details a traffic or parking violation.
  • A ticket is the informal term for citation, and it is used more often than the formal word.
  • If you receive a traffic citation (vs. a parking citation), your car insurance premium is likely to go up. When this happens, it’s important to compare your rates to see if a lower insurance premium is available elsewhere.

Citation vs. Ticket

Is a ticket the same as a citation?

More often than not, people use the word ticket when they’re talking about a citation. Citation is the formal word that means a written notification that a law has been violated.

A citation is a written statement that details a traffic or parking violation. It will include information about the driver, the vehicle, and the action the driver needs to take. A ticket is the informal term for citation, and it is used more often than the formal word. But the two terms are interchangeable.

Citations

A citation is a written notification of a violation of a law, specifically, for the purposes of this article, a traffic law. It includes information about what traffic law was broken, the person who broke the law, and the penalty for violating the law. Common traffic infractions you may receive a citation for include:

  • Speeding
  • Driving without a seatbelt
  • Failure to stop
  • Failure to signal
  • Driving with a broken light (headlight, taillight, etc.)
  • Driving without insurance
  • Driving with expired license plates

You can also receive a parking citation if you park somewhere you shouldn’t. These citations are often left under a windshield wiper on a vehicle, and, instead of being registered to a person, the ticket is registered under the license plate number.

What information is included on a citation?

Your citation has some very important information on it. The information that a law enforcement officer will include on your citation is:

  • The citation number
  • A description of the violation cited
  • The time, place, and location of the violation
  • The fine, penalties, and/or court summons
  • The court appearance date
  • How to pay your fine
  • Vehicle information, such as the make and model
  • License plate number
  • Vehicle registration number
  • Driver’s license number
  • Driver personal information

It’s important to take the time to read your citation carefully so that you understand what your next actions will be. If you’re required to make a court appearance, missing your court date will result in a warrant being issued for your arrest. Your license may also be revoked.

Tickets

A ticket is an informal word that people and officials can use in place of the word citation. Effectively, there is no difference between a speeding ticket and a speeding citation. The ticket is the citation. It is a written notification typically written by a police officer that notifies a person that they’ve violated the law.

Written Warnings

Sometimes, when a driver has committed a minor traffic violation, like rolling a stop sign, or is a first-time offender, they’ll receive a warning. A warning can be written or oral. It means that a police officer witnessed the violation and used their discretion to issue a warning instead of a full ticket.

Warnings don’t count as an official ticket. They won’t put points on your license or result in fines. If you receive a warning, you should consider yourself lucky. You should also take action. If you were warned about speeding, take care to follow traffic laws. If you were warned about a broken taillight, get it fixed right away. Chances are, you won’t receive a warning the next time around.

Penalties and Fines

The penalties and fines for a ticket depend on the violation, the extent of the violation, and the rules in your state. Some violations are more expensive than others. For example, driving under the influence (DUI or DWI) is more expensive than a speeding ticket because it poses a greater safety risk to others than speeding does. You could be required to go to traffic school.

If the violation is severe, it will carry higher penalties and fines than a minor violation. Speeding in excess of 20 miles per hour could result in a suspended license, jail time, and major fines while speeding less than 10 miles per hour is unlikely to result in any action beyond a fine. The only exception is when a driver racks up multiple minor tickets, which can cause issues.

Some states use a point system where drivers receive points on their licenses when charged with a traffic violation. When drivers receive too many driver’s license points, they can face additional penalties, such as license suspension.

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Negotiating Tickets

A speeding ticket can be negotiable, but you can’t negotiate with a police officer. You can negotiate in traffic court with the judge, officer, or the prosecution. You may be able to reduce your fine or the points assessed to your license. You have the best chance of negotiating if you don’t have any prior offenses or can show that you are correcting your behavior.

It’s also possible that you could receive some benefit when you go to pay your ticket. Instead of paying through the online portal, call into the center processing your payment. Ask about how you could reduce your obligations. In some cases, an administrator, often known as the clerk of court, may be able to change how the ticket affects you.

Driving Records

In most states, it is possible to get a ticket expunged from your record, so long as the ticket is minor. To do so, you’ll need to invest in a defensive driving course or another type of driver education course. You should have kept a clean record (no additional traffic offenses) since receiving the ticket. And you’ll also need to fill out the correct paperwork and pay a fee.

Keep in mind that it’s likely not worth it to get an older violation removed from your driving record, at least for insurance purposes. Most auto insurance companies only look at the last three to five years of your driving record when determining your rate. It can take some time to have a ticket expunged, so be sure to take the amount of time into consideration.

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Tickets and Auto Insurance Rates

Most of the time, a ticket for a moving violation will affect insurance rates. Just how big of a rate increase you can expect depends on the severity of the ticket. A parking ticket will have no effect on the cost of your insurance. A single speeding ticket or failure to stop has a minor effect. But multiple tickets or severe ones like DUI and reckless driving can increase your rate by a lot.

However, most insurance providers don’t review your driving record every time they automatically renew your policy. This is why some drivers don’t see an immediate change in their cost for car insurance after a minor ticket.

When you get a more serious ticket, you may need to file an SR-22 (proof of insurance) with your department of motor vehicles (DMV). This is done through your insurance company. At that time, your insurance company will be notified of your recent offense and increase your rate or drop you from coverage.

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Cheap Car Insurance after a Ticket

When you get a ticket or a few tickets, getting affordable car insurance can become difficult. Car insurance companies base their pricing on the risk a driver poses. Drivers with a long history of disobeying traffic laws pose a higher risk of filing a claim. The first step to getting a good rate is to practice safe, legal driving. You can also take a driver education course to get a discount.

With that being said, you should also shop around for rates. Insurify makes it easy and fast to compare rates. Fill out one form and get real quotes from top insurers, all while shopping anonymously. Only share your information if the price is right. Plus, you can save your profile to make comparing easier and to receive price drop alerts via email. Never miss a chance to save!

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Frequently Asked Questions

  • Generally speaking, a traffic ticket and a traffic citation are terms used interchangeably to mean a written notice. The notice is written by a police officer and provides an offender with the written proof of what they did wrong and what their next steps are. For example, a speeding ticket (or citation) provides the offender with the specifics of their offense, its cost, and how to pay it.

  • A citation is the written notice of wrongdoing, while a violation is the event of wrongdoing. For example, speeding is a violation of traffic laws, and a traffic ticket is the citation a driver receives when they are caught speeding. Citations are given for moving violations (speeding, running a red light, etc.) and also for non-moving violations, like a parking ticket.

  • Traffic citations do not go on your criminal record like a misdemeanor or felony. They do, however, stay on your driving record for a set number of years as determined by your state’s laws. In most states, citations remain on your record for three to five years. Citations for other violations, like underage drinking, can go on your criminal record and remain there forever.

  • Traffic citations are petty charges, not criminal charges. They do impose a burden, usually a financial one, upon the person receiving the citation. But it’s not the same as receiving a misdemeanor charge, which almost always includes an arrest. A misdemeanor charge is assessed to “minor” criminal activity, which is less serious than a felony charge.

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JJ Starr
JJ Starr
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Insurance Writer

J.J. Starr is a health and finance writer with a background in banking, lending, and financial advising. She holds a Series 6, FINRA, and life insurance licensure and a master's degree from New York University. Through her writing, she strives to use her decade of experience to help consumers make sound financial choices. Connect with J.J. on LinkedIn.

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