Tickets vs. Citations: What’s the Difference?

Yes, a citation is a ticket. Both words refer to the written statement an officer issues for a traffic or parking violation. “Ticket” is an informal version of the legal term “citation.”

Katie Powers
Written byKatie Powers
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Katie PowersAuto and Life Insurance Editor
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  • 3+ years experience in insurance and personal finance editing

Katie uses her knowledge and expertise as a licensed property and casualty agent in Massachusetts to help readers understand the complexities of insurance shopping.

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Tanveen Vohra
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Tanveen Vohra
Tanveen VohraManager of Content and Communications
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  • 4+ years creating insurance content

Tanveen manages Insurify's data insights, annual home and auto insurance reports, and media communications. She’s regularly featured in media interviews on insurance topics.

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Updated April 18, 2024

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If a police officer catches you violating a traffic law, such as speeding or running a stop sign, they’ll likely issue a written document known as a ticket or citation. The two terms are interchangeable. Depending on the type of traffic infraction you commit, your consequences range from paying a small fine for minor violations to potential jail time for more severe offenses.

Here’s what you need to know about the different types of citations, what to do if you get one, and how they might affect your ability to find cheap car insurance premiums.

Quick Facts
  • You can face license revocation or suspension for more serious traffic violations, like a DUI, reckless driving, or driving while uninsured.

  • Receiving a citation can lead to higher car insurance premiums.

  • Written citations will include the warning or citation number, descriptions of the violation, your driver’s license number, other personal information, and more.

Is a citation a ticket?

Yes. Both a citation and a ticket refer to the same kind of written document you might receive for a parking or traffic infraction.

People often use the word “citation” in formal settings and “ticket” in more informal settings — similar to calling a termination notice a “pink slip.” This difference in usage represents the only actual difference between the two terms.

Whether an officer lets you know you’re getting a speeding “citation” versus a “ticket,” know that it means the same thing.

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*Quotes generated for Insurify users within the last 10 days. Last updated on April 18, 2024

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What’s a citation?

A citation is a written document that indicates you violated a traffic law. It includes information about which traffic law you broke and the penalty for violating it.

Common traffic violations that result in a citation include:

  • Speeding: State laws generally prohibit driving over the speed limit. But some states that use presumed speed limits, such as Texas, allow you to avoid facing penalties if you can convince a judge you were driving safely based on road conditions.[1] Speeding tickets can affect insurance and stay on your record for up to five years, depending on where you live.

  • Driving without a seat belt: Although seat belt laws vary by state, most states require drivers and passengers to wear seat belts.[2]

  • Failure to stop: This traffic violation involves failing to stop at a stop sign or red light.

  • Failure to signal: If you fail to signal before switching lanes or turning, an officer could issue you a ticket.

  • Driving with a broken light: A police officer may give you a ticket if you drive with a broken taillight or headlight.

  • Driving without insurance: Most states prohibit uninsured driving.[3]

  • Driving with expired license plates: It’s illegal to drive with an expired license plate in all states.

What information does a citation include?

Your citation has some critical information on it. A law enforcement officer will include the following:

  1. The warning/citation number

  2. A description of the violation cited and violation code

  3. The time, place, and location of the violation

  4. The court summons

  5. The court appearance date

  6. The cost of the fine

  7. Vehicle information, such as the make and model

  8. License plate number

  9. Vehicle registration number

  10. Driver’s license number

  11. Driver’s personal information

Types of citations and tickets

Several types of citations and tickets exist, and the consequence you may face depends on the severity of the offense you commit.

Written warnings

If you commit a minor traffic violation — such as rolling through a stop sign — or receive your first traffic violation, an officer may issue you a verbal or written warning instead of a full ticket.

Unlike a ticket, a warning doesn’t result in penalties, such as points on your driving record or fines.

If you receive a warning, you should make any necessary changes as soon as possible to avoid receiving a ticket. For example, if you receive a warning for a broken taillight, you should immediately plan to fix it.

Penalties and fines

Whether you receive a penalty or fine for a ticket depends on the type of violation you committed, the severity of the offense, and the laws in your state. For example, DUIs and DWIs usually result in higher penalties than minor traffic infractions, such as driving 5 mph over the posted speed limit.

You’ll face penalties and fines corresponding to the severity of your violation, so a worse violation will lead to bigger consequences. For example, if you get a ticket for driving 25 mph over the speed limit, your state’s office or department of motor vehicles (DMV) could suspend your license and propose potential jail time for reckless driving. Receiving a ticket for driving 10 mph over the speed limit, meanwhile, will likely only result in a fine.

Moving and non-moving violations

Usually considered more severe than non-moving violations, moving violations include speeding, running a stop sign, and reckless driving. Non-moving violations include parking violations or defective safety equipment.[4]

Criminal and noncriminal offenses

The severity of the traffic offense determines whether a violation qualifies as criminal or non-criminal. Most minor traffic offenses, like changing lanes without signaling or running stop signs, fall into the category of non-criminal or civil offenses. If you commit one of these minor offenses, you may need to go to traffic court, which differs from criminal court.

On the other hand, criminal offenses include more severe violations, such as a DUI or vehicular homicide. You’ll have to go to criminal court if you commit a serious offense.[5]

Good to know

Some states use a point system where drivers receive points on their licenses for traffic violations. Drivers who receive too many points over time can face additional penalties, such as license suspension.

What to do if you get a citation

For most minor traffic citations, you can pay the fine and, in some cases, take a driving course to have it removed from your driving record.

If you disagree with the citation, you can dispute it in traffic court. This might help you reduce your fine or the points attached to your license. You could also potentially inquire about how to reduce your fees or obligations by calling the center processing your payment instead of paying through the online portal. In some cases, an administrator, often the clerk of court, may be able to change how the ticket affects you or provide insight.

How a citation affects your car insurance

A citation for a moving violation generally affects your insurance rates. Citations for a non-moving violation like illegal parking, however, generally don’t affect your insurance costs.

How a citation affects your car insurance also depends on how often you commit traffic violations.

A single speeding ticket or failure to stop has a minor effect — although how long a speeding ticket stays on your record depends on your state. Having multiple tickets or severe ones, like a DUI or reckless driving charge, can cause a significant increase in your car insurance premiums.

When you get a more severe ticket, you may need your insurance company to file an SR-22 form with your DMV. This form proves that you meet your state’s minimum insurance requirements.

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How to find cheap car insurance after a citation

After you receive a ticket or multiple tickets, you may struggle to find affordable car insurance. Car insurance companies determine pricing based on the risk a driver poses. Drivers with a long history of disobeying traffic laws are more likely to file a claim than drivers with clean records, so they usually pay higher car insurance premiums.

Practicing safe, legal driving is the first step to unlocking lower rates. Here are some other steps you can take to secure more affordable coverage.

  • illustration card https://a.storyblok.com/f/162273/x/9f249b61b8/bundling.svg

    Pursue discounts

    Ask about insurance discounts with your existing car insurance company or a new one. Many insurers offer discounts not tied to driving history, including discounts for bundling home and auto, being a good student, installing vehicle safety features, having membership in a specific organization, and more.

  • illustration card https://a.storyblok.com/f/162273/x/c822f20cb3/billing-related.svg

    Raise your deductible

    Increasing your deductible can lower your rate, but make sure you can comfortably cover the out-of-pocket cost if you’re in an accident.

  • illustration card https://a.storyblok.com/f/162273/x/fa11c1fe75/comparison-website.svg

    Shop around

    Comparing rates from multiple insurers is one of the most common ways to find affordable car insurance after a citation. Shopping around can help you find the best car insurance for your needs at an affordable price.

Citation and ticket FAQs

Understanding what a citation is and how receiving one affects your driving record is important. Here are answers to some commonly asked questions about citations and tickets.

  • Is a citation a ticket or a warning?

    A citation can refer to a ticket or a warning. It’s the written statement an officer issues a driver. If that statement formally accuses someone of committing a violation, requires payment, and will go on the driver’s record, it’s a ticket. If it doesn’t require payment and won’t go on the driver’s record, it’s a warning.

    If you aren’t sure whether your citation is a warning or a ticket, you can check the issuing court’s website. If you input your citation number and need to pay a fine or appear in court, it’s a ticket.

  • Where is the citation number on a ticket?

    The citation number on a ticket is typically in the upper right corner of the document or on a detachable bottom piece that you can tear off to pay the fine by mail. If you’ve lost your citation, you can call the issuing county’s court and ask to look it up by your name or other identifying information.

  • Is a citation bad?

    Insurers can use citations to deem you more or less risky and possibly increase your rates. They can also stay on your driving record for several years, depending on the violation and which state you live in. In some cases, citations can even result in a suspended or revoked driver’s license — or jail time.

    Getting a citation is never good, but it doesn’t have to be the end of the road for your driving record. Remember to promptly address citations and take corrective action. For example, taking a defensive driving class or contesting the citation in court may help you reduce your consequences. You can also call your local DMV and ask what options you have for clearing your record.

  • Is a speeding ticket a citation?

    Yes. A speeding ticket is a citation. If an officer issues you a citation for speeding, remember to pay the associated fee by the due date. Failure to do so could result in more consequences, such as late fees or even a warrant for your arrest.

  • What’s the difference between a citation and a violation?

    If a police officer catches you disobeying a traffic law, they may issue a written notice, known as a citation. A violation refers to the type of offense you committed.

    For example, if you drive over the speed limit, your violation is speeding. A police officer could issue you a citation for speeding that lists how fast you were driving over the speed limit, the location where the violation took place, and other information.

  • What happens if you don’t pay a ticket by the due date?

    If you don’t pay a traffic ticket on time, you could face several negative consequences, including license suspension, late fees, and even possible jail time. You can take steps to avoid those consequences, such as asking for a payment plan, a reduced fine amount, or a due date extension.

Sources

  1. FindLaw. "Speeding: State Laws."
  2. NOLO. "Seatbelt and Child Car Seat Laes."
  3. Insurance Information Institute. "What is auto insurance?."
  4. NOLO. "Types of Traffic Violations."
  5. NOLO. "How Do Traffic Violations Differ From Other Crimes?."
Katie Powers
Katie PowersAuto and Life Insurance Editor

Katie Powers is an insurance writer at Insurify with a producer’s license for property and casualty insurance in Massachusetts and expertise in personal finance and auto insurance topics. She strives to help consumers make better financial decisions. Prior to joining Insurify, she completed her undergraduate and graduate degrees at Emerson College. Her work has been published in St. Louis Magazine, the Boston Globe, and elsewhere. Connect with Katie on LinkedIn.

Tanveen Vohra
Edited byTanveen VohraManager of Content and Communications
Tanveen Vohra
Tanveen VohraManager of Content and Communications
  • Property and casualty insurance specialist

  • 4+ years creating insurance content

Tanveen manages Insurify's data insights, annual home and auto insurance reports, and media communications. She’s regularly featured in media interviews on insurance topics.

Featured in

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