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Updated June 15, 2022
Many drivers wonder whether there’s a difference between a ticket and a citation. And if there is, they want to know the difference. Discover 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.
A citation is a written statement that details a traffic or parking violation.
“Ticket” is the informal term for a citation, and it’s used more often than the formal word.
Your car insurance premium is likely to go up if you receive a traffic citation (vs. a parking citation). 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 includes information about the driver, the vehicle, and the action the driver needs to take. “Ticket” is the informal term for a citation, and it’s used more often than the formal word. But the two terms are interchangeable.
A citation is a written notification of a violation of a law, and for our purposes, specifically a traffic law. It includes information about which traffic law was broken, the person who broke it, and the penalty for violating it. Common traffic infractions you may receive a citation for include:
Driving without a seat belt
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 vehicle’s windshield wiper, and the ticket is registered under the license plate number instead of being registered to a person.
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 is:
The citation number
A description of the violation cited
The time, place, and location of the violation
The fines, 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 steps should be. If you’re required to appear in court, missing your court date will result in a warrant for your arrest. And your license may be revoked.
“Ticket” is an informal word that people and officials can use in place of the word “citation.” There is effectively 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.
Sometimes, when a driver has committed a minor traffic violation, like rolling through 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 make a change. If your warning was about speeding, take care to follow posted speed limits. If it was for 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 type of 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. 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 mph over the limit is unlikely to result in more than 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 for traffic violations. When drivers receive too many points, they can face additional penalties, such as license suspension.
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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 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’re 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 the center processing your payment. Ask 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.
In most states, it’s possible to get a ticket expunged from your record, so long as it’s minor. To do so, you’ll need to invest in a defensive driving course or another type of driver education course. You will also need to keep a clean record (no additional traffic offenses) after receiving the ticket. And you’ll 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 rates. 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 greatly increase your rates.
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
After 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’s education course to get a discount.
With that being said, you should also shop around for rates. Get real quotes from top insurers, and never miss a chance to save.
Frequently Asked Questions
Generally speaking, “traffic ticket” and “traffic citation” are terms used interchangeably to mean a written notice. The notice is written by a police officer and provides an offender with written proof of what they did wrong and their next steps. For example, a speeding ticket (or citation) provides the specifics of the 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 a citation the driver receives when caught. Citations are given for moving violations (speeding, running a red light, etc.) and for non-moving violations, like parking tickets.
Traffic citations don’t 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. But they do impose a burden, usually a financial one, upon the person receiving the citation. It’s not the same as receiving a misdemeanor charge, which almost always includes an arrest. A misdemeanor charge is assessed for “minor” criminal activity, which is less serious than a felony charge.
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Data scientists at Insurify analyzed over 40 million auto insurance rates across the United States to compile the car insurance quotes, statistics, and data visualizations displayed on this page. The car insurance data includes coverage analysis and details on drivers' vehicles, driving records, and demographic information. With these insights, Insurify is able to offer drivers insight into how their car insurance premiums are priced by companies.