Find Your Perfect Policy: 866-843-5386

Last updated: February 28, 2023

Traffic Citation vs. Ticket

What's the difference between the two?

Twitter brand
Facebook brand
Linkedin brand
Reddit brand
Envelop icon

You’re driving, when suddenly, you hear the blare of a police siren behind you. You pull over, put your hands on the wheel, and wait for the officer to approach you. Are they going to give you a citation or a ticket — and is there really a difference between the two? Let’s dive deep into the world of citations, traffic tickets and penalties.

Citation vs. Ticket

To get right to the point, citations and tickets are the same. “Citation” is the official term that police officers and the legal system use, while “ticket” is used more colloquially. However, both words refer to the same written paper that documents a violation. Usually, parking officials or police officers give out parking tickets and other types of citations, but in some states, automated enforcement can occur through speeding and red-light cameras.


Not every state allows automated enforcement. Check your state’s laws via the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety.1

Types of Citations and Tickets

Moving vs. Non-Moving Violations

Moving violations, for the most part, are violations that occur when someone is driving a car as opposed to when it is parked. Moving violations include the following:

Non-moving violations, on the other hand, include the following:

  • Parking illegally
  • Having registration tags that have expired
  • Having a broken headlight or turn signal
  • Driving without car insurance
  • Not wearing a seatbelt
  • Getting automated enforcement tickets (this is an exception, as you’re technically moving)2

Penalty vs. Warning

Whereas a penalty involves a fine you have to pay to resolve a ticket, with a warning, there’s no written ticket and no penalty.

Criminal vs. Non-Criminal

Minor traffic offenses, like failing to stop at a stop sign, are non-criminal civil offenses, otherwise known as infractions. Only misdemeanors and felonies end up in criminal court, although each state categorizes criminal versus non-criminal offenses differently. See the key differences and similarities between the offense types below.

Characteristics Traffic/non-criminal civil offense Criminal offense
Example Failing to stop at a stop sign Driving under the influence
Right to a jury trial? No; bench trial where a judge determines guilt or innocence Yes
Possible fine? Yes Yes
Possible jail time? Not typically Yes
Possible license suspension? Only if the driver has multiple traffic convictions recently Yes
Burden of proof? Government Government
Standards of proof? Lower standard; may be “clear and convincing evidence” All elements beyond a reasonable doubt
Right to court-appointed


Not typically; usually must pay for own attorney Yes, paid for by government3

What to Do if You Get a Citation or Speeding Ticket

  1. Pull over. Remain calm and pull over to the side of the road, putting your hands on the steering wheel.
  2. Hand over the paperwork. Give the police officer any paperwork they request, which usually includes your registration, license, and proof of auto insurance.
  3. Answer the officer’s questions. Without getting upset, answer the police officer’s questions.
  4. Sign the ticket. You’ll need to sign the citation, which says you’re obligated to appear in court on a specific date, otherwise known as your court date.
  5. Show up in court. Arrive on time on the specified date, assuming you want to enter a plea.
  6. Pay the fine. Unless you want to contest the ticket, pay the fine.

Can I Contest or Negotiate?

You can try contesting the ticket, either before or after the police officer issues the citation. Before the officer writes the ticket, you can admit your mistake, explain your actions, or say why you don’t feel you should get a citation. After the ticket is issued, you can petition for a fine reduction or community service in lieu of the standard penalty. You can also plead not guilty or no contest and go to trial, but you’ll need to state your case in front of a judge.

How Tickets Impact Car Insurance Rates

Let’s say you were caught speeding. Depending on how many miles per hour over the speed limit you were driving, you can expect your average car insurance costs to increase anywhere from 20 to 30 percent. That’s a significant hike, so what can you do to lower the rate?

How to Find a Cheap Car Insurance Company After a Ticket

  1. Shop at insurance companies that cater to high-risk drivers. Some insurance companies serve high-risk drivers specifically. Acceptance Insurance, for instance, specializes in insuring drivers with DUIs, moving violations and/or at-fault accidents. Although insurance for high-risk drivers always costs more than insurance for people with clean driving records, you can keep your rates as low as possible by finding specialty insurance for your situation.
  2. Raise your deductible. As long as you can pay your deductible in the event of an accident, raising it will lower your auto insurance premiums automatically.
  3. Enroll in telematics programs. If you’re a good driver and/or have low mileage, you could save money by enrolling in a telematics- or usage-based insurance program.
  4. Lower your limits. Although you may owe more out of pocket if you have losses, lowering your policy limits will also decrease your car insurance costs.
  5. Drop coverages. Similarly, dropping add-on coverages will lower your costs. The cheapest option would be to get your state’s minimum coverage, although we always recommend getting full coverage car insurance.
  6. Ask for discounts. Last but not least, ask your insurance agent for any discounts you may not know about. You’d be surprised by how much you can save by doing something as simple as enrolling in paperless billing!

How Tickets Impact Your Motor Vehicle Record

In addition to affecting your car insurance premiums, tickets can have an impact on your driving record.

Will a Speeding Ticket Stay on Your Motor Vehicle Record Forever?

The good news is that a speeding ticket won’t stay on your driving record forever in all but five states. Check your state’s laws below.

State How long a speeding ticket stays on your record in years
Alabama Permanently
Alaska 1
Arizona 1
Arkansas 3
California 3 and 3 months
Colorado Permanently
Connecticut 3
Delaware 2
District of Columbia 2
Florida 5
Georgia 2
Hawaii 10
Idaho 3
Illinois 5 maximum
Indiana 2
Iowa 5
Kansas 3
Kentucky 5
Louisiana 3
Maine 1
Maryland 3
Massachusetts 6
Michigan 7
Minnesota 5-10
Mississippi 1
Missouri 3
Montana Permanently
Nebraska 5
Nevada Permanently
New Hampshire 3
New Jersey 5
New Mexico 1
New York 1.5
North Carolina 3
North Dakota 3
Ohio Permanently
Oklahoma 3
Oregon 2
Pennsylvania 1
Rhode Island 3
South Carolina 2
Tennessee 2
Texas 3
Utah 3
Vermont 2
Virginia 5
Washington 5
West Virginia 5
Wisconsin 5
Wyoming 14


In Alabama, Colorado, Kentucky, Montana, Nevada, Ohio, and West Virginia, you’ll be able to get driving points on your license removed, although the violation itself will remain.

How to Remove a Traffic Ticket From Your Record

The process of removing a traffic ticket from your record varies based on your state, but it usually entails taking a defensive driving course to get either the points or the violation removed.


Whatever you call it, a citation or ticket is something you should avoid, especially if you want to keep your auto insurance rates low. Keep reading our frequently asked questions for more information on traffic tickets.

Frequently Asked Questions

Is a citation the same as a warning?

A citation is not the same as a warning. A citation is a written paper saying you violated a traffic law and may indicate the penalty, whereas a warning is just a verbal communication that doesn’t come with any penalty or fine.

Does a citation go on your record in Texas?

A citation will go on your record for three years in Texas.

Is a citation a ticket in Florida?

Yes, citations are tickets in Florida — and everywhere else.

Is a citation a ticket in Michigan?

Yes, citations are the same thing as tickets in Michigan, just like in Florida and every other state.


  1. Automated enforcement laws. Insurance Institute for Highway Safety, highway Loss Data Institute.(2023, Feb).

  2. Is a Citation a Ticket? Metromile. (2021, Oct 25).

  3. How Do Traffic Violations Differ From Other Crimes? NOLO. (2023).

  4. How Long Does a Speeding Ticket Stay on Your Record? Metromile. (2021, Jul 27).