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Citation vs. Ticket: What is the Difference?

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updated: April 17, 2024

If you’re pulled over for speeding or another violation, it can easily put a damper on your day. You may be wondering if you got a ticket or a citation.

Simply put, there isn’t a difference between the two. A ticket is a less formal term for a citation and police officers issue both terms. Though “citation” and “ticket” mean the same thing, at times you may hear one mentioned more commonly than the other.

Let’s consider when the term “citation” is used versus “ticket” as well as how it can affect your driving record and even your auto insurance costs.

When is “citation” used?

The word citation is a written record of something you did incorrectly or in violation of traffic laws while operating a vehicle or even while it was parked.

Citation is also a legal term that you may hear if you have to go to court, or you may see the word at the top of the paper an officer writes for your reference.

A citation document will include information such as:

  • The citation number.
  • Description of the violation.
  • Specific time and place where the violation occurred.
  • Your license plate and driver’s license numbers.
  • Court appearance date.
  • How to pay your fine and deadline.

When is “ticket” used

A ticket is a less formal term for a citation, and police officers may use this term as well if you’re pulled over for a violation. One of the most common phrases used is a “speeding ticket” for driving over the speed limit.

Whether the term ticket or citation is used, you’ll have to pay a fine by a certain deadline, or appear in court if you prefer to contest it. In some cases, you could even face jail time depending on the offense.

Types of citations

There are a few different types of citations that may be issued. The two main categories are moving violations and non-moving violations.

A moving violation occurs when the vehicle is in motion and can include citations for:

  • Speeding.
  • Not stopping at a stop sign or red traffic signal.
  • Failure to signal.
  • Reckless driving.
  • DUI or DWI.

Non-moving violations occur when the vehicle in not in motion and include:

  • Parking tickets.
  • Car repair issues.
  • Not wearing a seatbelt.
  • Un- or underinsurance.

How does a ticket impact your car insurance rate?

Receiving a ticket can cause your car insurance rates to increase depending on the type of violation. Tickets for speeding or a DUI can stay on your record for a while and make you appear to be a greater risk to insurance companies.

Each insurer will factor in tickets and driving history differently though, and there are several other factors that can impact insurance rates such as your age, type of car, location, and deductible amount.

How does a citation affect your motor vehicle record?

Depending on your state and the type of citation, some penalties will negatively affect your motor vehicle record. Some citations add points to your driving and insurance record. If you continue to get more citations and points, this could lead to more penalties or even the suspension of your license. In certain cases, your license could be revoked entirely.

Certain violations can stay on your record for an extended period of time. For example, a speeding ticket can stay on your record for up to three years.

If you have to go to court and plead guilty for the violation issued on your citation, it will go on your motor vehicle record but not your criminal record. However, if you refuse to pay a ticket, it can go on your criminal record.

Some states like New York and Virginia and cities allow options to help keep citations off your driving record through contesting in court, completing a driver defense course, or taking a traffic laws class.

What to do if you get a citation or speeding ticket?

First, you’ll want to confirm with the officer that you are being issued a citation or speeding ticket if they don’t state this clearly. Sometimes, a police officer will issue a written warning instead and this will not go on your record because it’s not an official citation.

If you are being issued a citation or ticket, the officer will provide details on the next steps to take. You will need to pay a fine by the deadline listed on the citation. Depending on your violation, you may also be asked to fix something on your vehicle as well.

For example, if you were pulled over for a broken tail light, you may need to get your tail light fixed and bring your car back to the police station for someone to sign a notice confirming you made the changes.

You are also provided the option to contest the citation in court. The officer who pulled you over can show up in court as well to explain what they saw that led to them writing the citation.

Can I negotiate a speeding ticket?

You shouldn’t try to negotiate a speeding ticket or talk yourself out of the ticket when you’re pulled over. Instead, contest the ticket if you disagree with it and appear in court to plead your case.

Then, the judge can review any evidence and determine whether to keep the citation or throw it out.

No one wants to get a citation or speeding ticket but sometimes it happens. By understanding how citations work and impact your driving record, this can motivate you to keep a clean driving record and try to avoid these violations.

Frequently asked questions (FAQs)

What happens if you don’t pay for a traffic ticket?

If you don’t pay a traffic ticket, you could receive additional fines as well as court fines. In some cases, you could even get your license suspended.

How long does a ticket affect your insurance?

It varies depending on the type of ticket you have and the laws in your state. In most areas, though, it’s common for speeding tickets to remain on your driving record for up to three years.

Insurers look closely at your driving record when determining your premium rates. Still, each insurer is different and factors in various things when determining premium rates.

How much does a speeding ticket cost?

The average cost of a speeding ticket in the U.S. is around $150, but this price can vary depending on where you live.

The information presented here is created independently from the TIME editorial staff. To learn more, see our About page.

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