Is a Citation a Ticket?

You’re driving down the highway and start to see the flashing lights behind you. You get pulled over and asked for your license, insurance, and registration. The officer lets you know you’re driving beyond the speed limit and you get a citation. 

Whether it’s for speeding, street sweeping, or some other issue, getting a citation is no fun and can easily put a damper on your day. After the sting has worn off and you have to face the consequences, you might wonder what’s a citation and wonder if there is a difference between citation vs. ticket.

What’s a Citation vs. Ticket? | Metromile

Citation vs ticket, explained 

If an officer pulls you over and gives you a citation, you may wonder “Is a citation a ticket?”. The answer is yes, they’re the same thing. 

The word “citation” is the official term that is used by officers and the legal system at large. The term “ticket” is used more colloquially but both citation and ticket refer to the written paper that documents a specific type of violation. Citations are usually given out by police officers or other city officials (such as for parking enforcement). 

However, there are sometimes speeding or red light cameras that can trigger a citation later on. Not all states permit this technology. The Insurance Institute for Highway Safety (IIHS) has a state-by-state chart on automated enforcement laws here, so you can see if that’s something to be aware of in your state. 

When you get a citation, you’ll need to pay a fine and may need to go to court depending on the type of traffic ticket you get. 

What’s a citation?

If you’re wondering what’s a citation, now you know it’s the same thing as a ticket. But let’s get a direct definition from an official government entity. According to the North Carolina General Assembly:

 “A citation is a directive, issued by a law enforcement officer or other person authorized by statute, that a person appear in court and answer a misdemeanor or infraction charge or charges. 

(b) When Issued. – An officer may issue a citation to any person who he has probable cause to believe has committed a misdemeanor or infraction. 

(c) Contents. – The citation must: 

(1) Identify the crime charged, including the date, and where material, identify the property and other persons involved, 

(2) Contain the name and address of the person cited, or other identification if that cannot be ascertained, 

(3) Identify the officer issuing the citation, and 

(4) Cite the person to whom issued to appear in a designated court, at a designated time and date.”

Though citations can seem scary, they vary in severity depending on the charge. For example, a parking citation is much less serious than a speeding citation, though equally annoying. 

Different types of tickets or citations 

There are various types of tickets or citations that you can get. Citations typically fall under two umbrellas:

  1. A moving violation, that occurs when the vehicle is in motion. 
  2. A non-moving violation, that typically occurs when the car is not moving (but not always). 

Moving violations include:

  • Speeding tickets, which occur when you drive over the speeding limit. Each state may have different laws regarding how much you can go over before getting a citation. 
  • Not stopping at a red light or stop sign. Yes, this also includes the “California roll”, where a driver doesn’t stop completely at a stop sign or red light, and rolls through. 
  • Not putting on your turn signal. There’s a specific unspoken language to driving to help communicate with other drivers and that includes using turn signals when necessary. If you fail to use your turn signals, you could get hit with a ticket.
  • Careless or reckless driving, such as putting on makeup while driving or texting while driving. 
  • DUI or DWI, where a driver is under the influence or intoxicated in some way. This can be a very serious violation that can impact your insurance and can cause license suspension. 

Non-moving violations include:

  • Parking tickets, such as for street sweeping or in restricted areas. 
  • Expired registration tags, where it’s clear your vehicle registration tags aren’t up-to-date. 
  • Car repair issues, such as a broken headlight or turn signal. 
  • Not having car insurance. 
  • Not wearing a seatbelt. 
  • Red light or speeding camera tickets, where you run a red light or speed through and get caught by a camera. Though you’re moving, many states consider this a non-moving violation. 

As you can see, there are various types of citations you can get while driving or not driving. Each of these tickets have different degrees of severity and consequences when it comes to how much the fine is and what you need to do next. 

What should you do if you get a citation or ticket?

If you get pulled over and receive a citation or get one for parking in the wrong area at the wrong time, you want to handle it right away. 

If you’re dealing with an officer, you want to hand over the paperwork they ask for. This typically includes license, registration, and insurance. Even though it can be nerve-wracking, try to stay calm and answer any questions the officer has. 

When you receive a citation, you’ll need to sign it. It’s important to note that signing doesn’t mean that you’re admitting guilt. Rather, it’s stating that you will appear in court on a specific date that may be listed on your citation. For cases like speeding tickets, you may need to appear in court and also pay the required fine. 

On the other hand, parking tickets don’t go through the court system and outline a fine that you must pay by a specific date. 

After you pay your traffic ticket, the case will be considered closed and for traffic violations, the incident will come up as a conviction on your driving record

You may be able to avoid getting points on your record by going to traffic school, but this may be reserved for first-time offenders. 

If there is a mandatory court appearance, make sure to show up at the appropriate time and date listed on the ticket. It’s important you show up to court or pay off the ticket and take the appropriate action to get the citation settled. If not, you could get a misdemeanor and a potential warrant for your arrest. When it comes to problems to have in life, you’d much rather pay a ticket and show up to court than get arrested or have a misdemeanor. 

Is it possible to contest a speeding ticket? 

If you get pulled over for speeding, you may wonder if it’s possible to contest a speeding ticket. When you get pulled over, you can try to explain to the officer your reasoning behind speeding. Remember to do this, before the officer actually issues the citation. 

If you were unaware of your speeding and it was an honest mistake, you can admit that you didn’t realize and apologize. If there was a legitimate and good reason, such as a family emergency trying to get to the hospital or being late for an interview, say that. Don’t get caught in a lie that will hurt you later on, so be honest and forthright. 

You may be able to contest your ticket if you feel you shouldn’t have gotten one. If you don’t want to fight the traffic ticket and aren’t required to appear in court, you can plead guilty and pay the fine, sometimes referred to as “bail”. 

You can also request an arraignment and plead guilty while asking for a fine reduction or community service. You may also plead “not guilty” or “no contest” and go to trial to see if you can contest the ticket. If in front of a judge, be prepared to state your case, apologize, and attempt to get the speeding ticket dismissed. 

How do citations affect your car insurance premium?

Getting a traffic citation may affect your car insurance premium. This depends on the type of citation as well as your driving history and the company you’re insured with. 

If it’s the first time you’ve received a citation, your car insurance company may not raise your car insurance premium. It’s best to check with your insurance company to see what their particular policy is. 

If the ticket does impact your car insurance premium, your rate can go up by hundreds of dollars per year. According to  car insurance premiums typically increase about 15% after a speeding ticket. 

Based on NerdWallet state-by-state data on full coverage car insurance premiums after a speeding ticket, here’s how much your annual car insurance premium could potentially cost and what the increase might be  compared to a clean driving record in the following states: 

StateInsurance premium increase compared to clean recordAverage yearly car insurance premium after a speeding ticket 
Illinois $320$1,483
New Jersey$522 $2,281
Oregon$288 $1,516
Pennsylvania $136 $1,303
Virginia $193 $1,153
Washington $273 $1,533

As you can see, the increase and annual car insurance rates can vary widely by state. It also depends on how many citations you’ve received and within what timeframe. 

If you have several citations that are in a short period of time, your license may be suspended after accumulating too many driver’s license points. How long your speeding ticket stays on your record will vary by state, but it can be several years. 

On top of that, it may show your insurer that you’re a risky driver and your car insurance premiums may skyrocket. In the worst case scenario, your insurance can drop you as well.

The bottom line  

If you’ve wanted to know the difference between a citation and a ticket, now you’re well-informed and know there is no difference between the terms. When it comes to citation vs ticket, it doesn’t matter what you call it, it’s not pleasant and can have real-world implications on your car insurance premiums. The most important thing to do is to remedy the issue by taking action, which typically means paying a fine and/or going to court. 

If you’re concerned about your car insurance premium and are a low-mileage driver, check out your prospective rate with Metromile. Metromile offers pay-per-mile insurance where you pay a low base rate and a few cents for each mile you drive. Get a free quote today. 

​​Melanie Lockert is a freelance writer, podcast host of the Mental Health and Wealth show, and author of Dear Debt. She’s a cat mom to two jazzy cats, Miles and Thelonious, an amateur boxer, music lover, and needs coffee to function.