What Is the Difference Between a Traffic Ticket and Citation

Motorists receive a ticket when they get caught breaking the traffic rules like parking in the wrong place, excessive speeding, reckless driving, not following traffic signals and driving under the influence. We often hear the word “citation” with similar infractions but there is no difference between a ticket and citation. Ticket is used more widely and casually and citation is a more formal, official and legal term.

Tickets are issued by a police officer on the scene or they may be sent after the infraction is caught by a traffic camera. It explains where, when, what laws are broken, how it is determined (by a camera or police officer), what fines are issued and what to do next.​ Depending on infraction, it may be for a non-mowing offence, moving violation or for more serious reasons like reckless driving or driving under the influence. The consequences of each of these tickets may be considerably different.

Options after a Citation

Parking tickets and other non-moving violations like a ticket given for a faulty light may only have fines and once you pay the fine it is closed. These tickets don’t go on your driving record.

Depending on the ticket or citation, you may just need to pay a fine or you may need to appear in court for a more serious offence. Also, fines, penalties and requirements to appear in court may change depending on the state you live in. So, motorists can pay the ticket, which means they accept the charges or follow the appeal process usually explained in the ticket. Often, people who pay the fine may not need to appear in court but the corresponding penalty may go on their driving record since accepting the fine and paying is the same as a conviction.

But if they are required to appear in court because of a more serious offence like causing an accident as a result of reckless driving, they may not have the choice but make the appearance on the day required. In some jurisdictions, they may not appear in court if they can work out a deal or a plea before going in front of a judge.

In any case, the words “ticket” and “citation” are used interchangeably to mean the exact same thing, which is a legal notice informing how someone got caught breaking traffic laws and the consequences. You would say you got a ticket when you are talking to a friend, agent or insurer. But officially you would see that they refer to it as a citation when you want to enquire about it, pay the charge for it, like to contest it in court or go to court for it.

Motorists may be able to talk to the police officer when they are pulled over and before a ticket is written and explain why they shouldn’t get it. It is worth a try but starting with a denial or an argument usually doesn’t work. If this fails, drivers should note the conditions on the day and anything that can help them later.

They should start with reading through the ticket and consider their options. One of the first things to look for is if there are other options instead of the fine and point on driver license like taking a defensive driving course instead or deferring the penalty. This option may be available if this is a first offence in the last 3 years because this option is typically only available once every 3 to 5 years. In such cases, once the course is taken that would be the end of it because the infractions wouldn’t be recorded​ on Motor Vehicle Record (MVR).

Going to court and making a case may be a viable option as motorists may be able to get a lenient choice even before the court appearance. Otherwise, in the worst-case scenario, they can ask the judge for leniency. It might work. Anyway, the alternative is to accept the ticket and pay the fine.

Effects ​of Tickets on Car Insurance Rates

Most moving violation tickets go on Motor Vehicle Records and start affecting auto insurance rates, unless they are successfully challenged or mitigated to a lesser fine. Drivers can see a slight or large change on their premiums starting from the next renewal, depending on the severity of the infraction, the state rules, car insurance company and records.

According to the Insurance Information Institute, excessive speeding is the major cause of fatal crashes and it is ahead of driving under the influence. That is why the first speeding ticket on record would increase car insurance premiums by around 23% on average.

Citations can be for serious offences and court appearance may be required for cases like DUI, reckless driving and driving way over the speed limits. Then, motorists can face large fines, driver license suspensions or even a jail sentence.

​Typically, most traffic moving violation tickets stay on your driving record for 3 years. However, a DUI can stay on your record 7 to 10 years depending on the state. Having a DUI on your record can increase your car insurance rates substantially depending on the state you live in.