Citation vs. Ticket: Is There a Difference?

Article Summary:

A citation and a ticket are the same things. Both refer to the document you receive after a traffic violation, requiring you to pay a fine or appear in court.

Many of us can relate to the feeling of driving down the highway and suddenly seeing those flashing red and blue lights behind us. Maybe you were driving a bit over the speed limit because you were late to work, or perhaps it was something a bit more serious. Either way, you’re likely to receive a fine.

When it comes to traffic law — and any kind of law, for that matter — there are a lot of jargon terms thrown around that can be confusing to keep straight. For example, what is the difference between a citation and a ticket? Is there a difference at all?

What is a citation vs. ticket?

Citation and ticket are two of the most common terms you’ll hear in reference to traffic violations. You’ll notice the two are often used interchangeably, and that’s because they actually mean the same thing. While citation is the legal term, “ticket” is the colloquial term most often used.

Both citations and tickets are documents you’ll receive for a traffic violation. In most cases, you receive one from the law enforcement officer at the time of the incident. Traffic citations usually include a fine you must pay by a deadline. Some may also include an option or a requirement for you to appear in court.

Citation vs. violation

In addition to the terms citation and ticket, “violation” is another you may hear thrown around when it comes to traffic laws.

A violation isn’t the same thing as a citation or a ticket. Instead, a violation is when you’ve broken a particular traffic law. The citation or ticket is the punishment you’ll receive for committing a traffic violation.

Types of traffic citations

Citations are generally used when you commit a traffic violation, but they can come in several different forms.


First, some citations are just warnings. They don’t require you to pay a fine or appear in court, and they often don’t even appear on your driving record.

Instead, these citations essentially warn you that if you commit another violation, you’ll face stiffer penalties. Warnings are most common for first-time offenders with clean driving records.

Fine or penalty

Another type of citation is a fine or penalty imposed for committing a traffic violation. Some of the most common moving violations that will accompany citations include:

  • Speeding
  • Running a red light or stop sign
  • Reckless driving
  • Distracted driving
  • Failure to signal a lane change

Non-moving violations

There are also citations issued for non-moving violations. Those traffic violations could include parking tickets, expired registration, or failure to have the required car insurance.

Criminal offense

A final type of citation could be issued to accompany a criminal offense, such as a misdemeanor or felony. For example, criminal offenses that could come with citations include driving under the influence or committing a hit and run.

In addition to the financial penalties that accompany most citations, these traffic violations also often require appearing in court, losing driving privileges, and possibly spending time in jail.

What to do if you get a citation

Most of us will receive a traffic citation at some point, whether it’s for parking in the wrong place, driving over the speed limit, or something similarly minor. Once you’ve been caught committing a violation, it’s important to know what your next steps should be.

  1. Speak with the officer. First, once you’ve been pulled over, be calm and polite. The officer that pulls you over will probably ask you to show your driver’s license and proof of car insurance, both of which you should have easily accessible from where you’re sitting. The officer may also ask you questions related to the violation.
  2. Review the citation. Once you’ve received your citation, you’ll see that it includes instructions on what’s expected of you. In most cases, the traffic citation will include a fine you’ll have to pay, as well as a due date by which you must pay it. The citation may also include a court date.
  3. Check to see if you have a court date. Unless you committed a serious violation, the court date is optional. You’ll only have to attend if you plan on fighting the citation or asking for a reduced penalty. That being said, if the citation requires that you appear at your court date, it’s important that you do to avoid stiffer penalties.

Pro Tip

You may be able to contest your traffic citation or ask for a reduced penalty. Most citations include an optional court date. You can appear in court to explain to the judge why you’re not guilty or should have your penalty reduced. While this may not get rid of the citation altogether, it could reduce your fine amount or the number of points on your driver’s license.

How a citation affects your car insurance rates

Depending on your car insurance company, your driving history, and the traffic violation, a citation could cause your insurance rates to increase.

First, if you’re a first-time offender with an otherwise clean driving record, you might be in luck. In that case, you may not see your car insurance premiums increase for a minor violation. However, if you commit a more serious violation or already have infractions on your driving record, you’re likely to see your auto insurance rates increase.

How much will your rate increase?

The amount your rates will increase depends on a couple of different factors. First, the amount your car insurance premium will increase will depend on your car insurance company. Some companies are more forgiving than others for certain violations. Some charge significantly higher rates for drivers with violations, while others offer more favorable rates to high-risk drivers.

Your rate increase will also depend on the violation. It probably won’t come as a surprise that the more serious the violation, the more your auto insurance rates will increase. For example, failing to use a turn signal may result in only a minor rate increase — or no rate increase at all — while getting a citation for driving under the influence is likely to increase your rates significantly. A speeding ticket or similar violation is likely to fall somewhere in between.

How to keep your rates low

In some situations, there may still be ways to reduce your rate increase. For example, some car insurance companies allow you to take a defensive driving or driver’s safety course to reduce your auto insurance rates. Others offer discounts if you agree to put a device in your vehicle that tracks your driving habits. In exchange, you could get a discount.

Finally, if you’re able to negotiate your violation to something less serious, your car insurance rates may not increase as much (or at all).

Pro Tip

Are you in the market for affordable car insurance? We’ve rounded up the best auto insurance companies on the market so you can find the one that best fits your needs.

How much will your rates increase for a speeding citation?

A speeding ticket can affect your auto insurance premiums for three to five years, which is the amount of time a ticket can remain on your driving record. However, how much your rate will increase depends largely on the state you live in and how fast you were going. To get a better idea of how your rates may increase, check for your state in the list below:


State Average rate after a speeding ticket Average increase*
Alabama $2,101 $737
Alaska $1,494 $461
Arizona $2,090 $717
Arkansas $2,389 $1,028
California $2,702 $920
Colorado $2,377 $758
Connecticut $1,971 $357
Delaware $2,387 $803
Florida $3,350 $1,228
Georgia $2,116 $743
Hawaii $1,304 $1,184
Idaho $1,217 $302
Illinois $1,780 $686
Indiana $1,484 $754
Iowa $1,334 $409
Kansas $2,190 $391
Kentucky $2,912 $1,011
Louisiana $3,658 $2,030
Maine $1,293 $342
Maryland $2,387 $914
Massachusetts $1,502 $472
Michigan $3,188 $1,674
Minnesota $1,923 $663
Mississippi $2,230 $478
Missouri $2,004 $759
Montana $2,128 $484
Nebraska $1,659 $750
Nevada $3,010 $777
New Hampshire $1,267 $367
New Jersey $2,518 $1,397
New Mexico $1,744 $488
New York $2,348 $451
North Carolina $1,873 $673
North Dakota $1,506 $339
Ohio $1,316 $501
Oklahoma $2,316 $596
Oregon $1,733 $574
Pennsylvania $1,743 $286
Rhode Island $2,537 $752
South Carolina $1,892 $491
South Dakota $1,702 $694
Tennessee $1,708 $662
Texas $1,918 $506
Utah $1,978 $479
Vermont $1,213 $373
Virginia $1,661 $654
Washington $1,540 $792
Washington, D.C. $2,188 $564
West Virginia $1,876 $628
Wisconsin $1,567 $1,013
Wyoming $1,992 $765
*Average increase is calculated by averaging fines received from speeding 11-29 mph over the limit and 30+ mph over the limit.
Source: Quadrant Information Services

Depending on your auto insurance company, your rates may change only slightly or not at all. For instance, if this is your first violation and you were only driving a few miles per hour over the speed limit, you may only receive a warning and no change to your insurance rates.


How do I get a traffic ticket dismissed?

Depending on the type of violation, you may be able to have your traffic ticket dismissed by going to court and asking to have it dismissed. Remember, you’ll have to offer a good reason as to why the ticket should be dismissed.

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

What happens if you don’t pay a ticket could depend on where you live. But generally speaking, you could face late fees, license suspension, having your ticket sent to a collections agency, or even having your tax refund garnished.

Does a citation go on your driving record?

Yes, citations generally go on your motor vehicle record. The length of time it will remain on your driving record depends on where you live and the type of traffic citation you received.

Key Takeaways

  • A citation and a ticket are the same thing — both are the documents you receive after a traffic violation that requires you to pay a fine or appear in court.
  • Citations can come in several forms, including warnings, financial penalties, or criminal penalties.
  • If you get a citation, it’s important to read it carefully to understand what’s expected of you, whether it involves paying a fine or appearing in court.
  • In most cases, citations will appear on your driving record and could increase your car insurance rates, at least temporarily.
View Article Sources
  1. Premium Comparison Reports – Auto / Homeowners Insurance — Colorado Department of Regulatory Agencies
  2. FAQs About Auto Insurance — North Carolina Department of Insurance
  3. How to Clear Your Driving Record to Save on Car Insurance — SuperMoney
  4. Low Down Payment Auto Insurance: 6 Expert Tips to Getting a Good Deal on Car Insurance — SuperMoney
  5. How To Find Auto Insurance That Covers Any Driver — SuperMoney
  6. What Should I Do If My Driver’s License Number is Stolen? — SuperMoney
  7. How do Speeding Tickets Affect Insurance Rates? — SuperMoney
  8. Can I Insure a Car Not in My Name? — SuperMoney
  9. Best Auto Insurance for High Risk Drivers | July 2022 — SuperMoney
  10. Best Auto Insurance Companies | July 2022 — SuperMoney