What's the difference between the two?
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.
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
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:
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.
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 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|
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.
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?
In addition to affecting your car insurance premiums, tickets can have an impact on your driving record.
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|
|California||3 and 3 months|
|District of Columbia||2|
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.
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.
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.
A citation will go on your record for three years in Texas.
Yes, citations are tickets in Florida — and everywhere else.
Yes, citations are the same thing as tickets in Michigan, just like in Florida and every other state.
Automated enforcement laws. Insurance Institute for Highway Safety, highway Loss Data Institute.(2023, Feb).
Is a Citation a Ticket? Metromile. (2021, Oct 25).
How Do Traffic Violations Differ From Other Crimes? NOLO. (2023).
How Long Does a Speeding Ticket Stay on Your Record? Metromile. (2021, Jul 27).