What's the Difference Between a Citation and a Ticket?

Is a Citation a Ticket?

A driver gets more information about her speeding ticket.
•••

People Images / Getty Images

A citation and a ticket are two words often used interchangeably that have the same basic meaning: You’ve been charged with violating a minor traffic law and need to pay a fine or appear in court. In addition to a monetary fine, a citation or ticket may also impact your car insurance rates. 

Though citation and ticket have the same meaning, there are times where you’re more likely to hear one of them over the other. Let’s look a little more closely at each word, and then examine how a traffic infraction on your driving record can increase your car insurance. 

Key Takeaways

"Ticket" and "citation" are often used interchangeably and mean the same thing.

Citation is a more formal term you'll often see when you have to pay or contest your ticket.

You'll usually see the word "ticket" in reference to the type of infraction (speeding, parking, etc.).

How a ticket or citation affects your car insurance premiums depends on the infraction and the state you're in.

Is a Citation a Ticket?

Yes, a citation is the same thing as a ticket. However, there are certain situations where one word is generally used instead of the other. Here is a quick overview to help you get a better understanding of these two words. 

When Is the Word “Citation” Used? 

The word “citation” is a bit more formal than the word “ticket.” It’s a directive for an official document requiring a person to respond to a minor offense, although you can get a citation for major offenses like drunken driving, too. 

Here are four common times when you may see the word “citation” instead of the word ticket: 

  1. When you need to enter your citation number online. 
  2. When you need to pay your citation fee.
  3. When you contest your citation.
  4. If you must go to court for your citation.

While you don’t have to go to court for every traffic citation, your local law enforcement might require a court appearance for more severe violations. These typically include driving with a suspended license, drunken or drugged driving, reckless driving, and other serious traffic offenses. 

When Is the Word “Ticket” Used? 

Less formal than the word “citation,” “ticket” still means the same thing. It’s a legal document that details what you’re accused of doing and what you need to do to resolve the situation.

Here are four times you’ll usually see (or hear) the word “ticket” instead of the word citation:

  1. When a police officer writes you a ticket.
  2. When referring to a specific type of traffic infraction, such as a speeding ticket or a parking ticket. 
  3. When you lose your ticket and need a replacement issued. 
  4. When your insurer talks with you about your driving record. 

In most states, your insurance company will still find out about tickets you receive out of state, thanks to the Driver License Compact (DLC). So, don’t try to hide these from your car insurance company. Be honest about your driving record. 

How Citations Affect Your Insurance

Your driving record has a significant impact on the price you pay for car insurance. If you have one or more traffic citations, you’ll likely pay more than someone who doesn’t have any. 

However, not every type of citation has the same effect on your car insurance. States assign demerit points to different moving violations, and, typically, the more points you have, the riskier you are to insure because those points represent multiple and possibly serious citations. 

The more serious the infraction, the more points you’ll likely get. For instance, a DUI may give you more points than not wearing a seatbelt.

If this was your first infraction in the past three years and it’s a minor speeding ticket, you may not see your insurance rates increase. Parking tickets and other non-moving violations may also not affect your insurance. However, if you previously had a safe driving discount, you might lose that discount after a speeding ticket. 

Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs) 

How do I get a traffic ticket dismissed?

Sometimes you can get a traffic ticket dismissed. If you are generally a safe driver without other recent violations or deferrals on your record, you may be able to ask for a deferral or a deferred disposition. This is similar to probation. Your ticket may be dismissed if you meet the requirements your state lists for the entire length of the deferral period.

Additionally, some states dismiss your ticket if you take a safe driving course. You may also get your traffic ticket dismissed if you make the changes required by a “fix-it” ticket, such as a broken taillight or an expired driver’s license.

What happens if you plead not guilty to a traffic ticket?

If you don’t believe you earned the ticket, or there are other circumstances you want to be considered, you have the right to plead not guilty in court. If you decide to go this route, the exact protocol varies based on your location. Generally speaking, you can represent yourself or hire an attorney. You’ll need to appear before the judge and explain why you don’t think you’re guilty of the violation.

Always read the text on your citation carefully and follow the directions by the deadline. 

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

If you don’t pay your traffic ticket, you can incur additional fines, a suspended license, and perhaps even jail time. To prevent these, always respond to your traffic tickets by the deadline listed on the ticket.