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Difference between a citation and a speeding ticket

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Every driver dreads being pulled over by the police and handed a citation for a traffic violation. Although “ticket” is the colloquial term for the document issued for speeding or parking offenses, “citation” is considered correct, legal jargon. Whether or not you have had this experience, it is always wise to know what to do when you get a citation and how this affects your driving record and auto insurance cost.

Citation vs. ticket

What is a citation? It is a written record of something you did wrong while operating your vehicle or while it is parked. “Ticket” is simply a less formal term for a citation. There is no difference between a citation and a ticket. In both cases, this is a written document typically issued by a police officer. In some cases, a speeding camera may notify the police if you were not obeying traffic laws and a citation may be issued. When you get a ticket or citation, you will generally have to pay a fine and could even face a court appearance or jail time, depending on the severity of the offense.

What is a citation?

A traffic citation, also called an auto citation or a ticket, is a written notice that you receive from a law enforcement officer. The citation explains what you did wrong, whether it was speeding, disregarding a stop sign or another violation.

Basically, you get a traffic citation when you are caught disobeying traffic laws. It is written proof of your violation and will generally include information on how to rectify the situation, such as paying a required fine or appearing in court on a certain date.

Speeding tickets explained

Now that we have clarified that there is no difference between a citation and a ticket, we can discuss some of the most common auto citations, including speeding tickets.

Some citations, like parking tickets, are considered non-moving violations since the car was not in motion at the time of the incident. Moving violations are actions for which you can be cited while you are operating your vehicle. Some of the most common tickets for moving violations include:

  • Speeding tickets: If you are only going a couple of miles over the speed limit, you may be let off with a warning, which will not appear on your driving record. For more serious speeding violations, you may get a traffic citation or ticket, resulting in a fine. This will not only appear on your driving record, but may also negatively affect your insurance premium.
  • Running a red light/stop sign: Because this traffic citation makes the road more dangerous for everyone, a failure to stop ticket usually comes with a pretty hefty fine. Penalties vary by state and other factors, like whether or not you caused an accident.
  • Driving under the influence (DUI)/driving while intoxicated (DWI): This traffic citation comes with serious penalties, from a sizable fine to license suspension and extensive jail time. This ticket will likely appear on your motor vehicle record for at least three years. However, in certain states, it could remain on your record for up to 10 years, which means you may pay much more for auto insurance for the next decade.
  • Failure to signal: If you do not signal when taking turns, there is a chance of getting a petty moving violation. You may get a citation for this offense, which could earn you points on your license and a fine.

When you are pulled over by a law enforcement officer and issued a citation, the officer will typically explain the accusation against you. In the case of a speeding ticket, for example, the officer may have captured your speed on a handheld speed gun.

Once the officer explains why they believe you committed an infraction, you will be handed the ticket. This does not mean you are admitting guilt, but are agreeing to pay the ticket or appear in court to dispute it.

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What to do if you get a citation or speeding ticket

If you are pulled over for speeding or another moving violation, knowing how to react to law enforcement is important.

Be calm and courteous: You will more than likely be asked to provide your driver’s license & registration and/or proof of insurance. If the officer asks you questions, answer politely and provide your side of the story. The officer may have proof of your speed or other violation, so denying that you committed the act may not be the best course of action.

Find out what you need to do next: In some cases, you will need to appear in court. You might have a court date if you are issued a citation for excessive speed, ticketed for reckless driving or involved in a traffic accident, for example. It is extremely important that you are clear about what actions you need to take following your citation. A failure to appear in court can lead to a misdemeanor filed against you, a substantial fine or even jail time. Even paying your fine late might mean you need to pay additional funds (a penalty) to resolve the citation.

Make notes about everything you can remember: Include the date and time, weather conditions, surroundings, if there were any posted speed limit signs that may have been obstructed, etc. Doing this shortly after the citation when the details are fresh in your mind can be helpful.

Get your citation resolved: This might mean heading to court or paying the ticket. That said, it may raise your auto insurance rates. If you feel the officer incorrectly ticketed you, you can choose to dispute the citation in court.

Can I negotiate a speeding ticket?

There are multiple ways you can contest a speeding ticket:

  • When you get pulled over: If you are calm and courteous, you can plead your case and explain why you feel the ticket is not warranted. Try to do so before the officer writes the ticket.
  • Before court: You might be able to request a “mitigation” negotiation before your court date, where you admit to the violation and give the judge reasons why you should be given leniency. You may still have to pay the ticket, but it might not affect your motor vehicle record, or you may be asked to take an online or in-person driving course instead of paying the ticket. In other cases, you can get a reduction of the fine.
  • In court: You can contest the ticket, stating why you believe you are not guilty, or you can apologize to the judge, plead your case and explain why you believe the ticket was written in error and ask for a reduction in driver’s license points or a reduced fine.

Hiring an attorney to help you with the process of rectifying a traffic citation may be a wise decision. An attorney that specializes in traffic court will likely better understand the process and can help you decide on the best course of action.

How does a ticket impact your car insurance rate?

Depending on your auto insurance company and your driving history, your car insurance rate could increase if you receive a traffic citation.

First-time auto citation

Some insurers may not increase your premiums for first-time auto citations. If you are concerned about the impact on your auto insurance rates in case you get a ticket, you may be able to check with your auto insurance company to see if a ticket forgiveness program is available for first-time offenders.

Depending on the type of offense you received a citation for, your average annual auto insurance premium could rise by several hundred dollars. The following table indicates the average premium and percentage of rate increases after a speeding ticket in the top three states for the most car accidents. As you can see, just one speeding ticket can have significant financial consequences.

Average annual premium after a speeding ticket

State Clean driving record After one speeding ticket Percent increase
Texas $1,823 $2,004 10%
Florida $2,364 $3,352 42%
North Carolina $1,325 $2,054 55%

Repeat traffic citations

Too many motor vehicle infractions, especially if they result in your driver’s license being revoked or suspended, could cause significant premium increases or even cause an insurer to discontinue your coverage. This can happen in one of two ways.

  • If you have had a few infractions, but your driver’s license is still valid (meaning it has not been suspended or revoked), you may get a policy non-renewal notice from your auto insurer. This notice gives you advanced warning that you will not be able to renew your auto insurance policy with that company.
  • If your license has been suspended, you could get a notice of cancellation from your auto insurer. This can happen at any time during the term of your policy.

In addition to fines, getting a ticket adds points to your driving record. If you have multiple violations, this could cause you to have your license revoked by your state’s motor vehicle department. If you get a traffic citation, the surcharge may be applied to your next policy renewal. It is important to note that some policy terms may be shorter than others, so you could see a premium increase sooner if you have a six-month policy versus an annual policy.

Frequently asked questions

How much does a speeding ticket cost?

The average cost of a speeding ticket varies by state. The national average cost is usually around $150 for first offenses but can rise up to $500 or more for repeat violations. Besides the fine, a speeding ticket has a direct effect on your insurance premiums, with an average rate spike generally within the double digits.

Can going to traffic school help my insurance rates?

If you already have traffic violations on your motor vehicle record, the cost of your premiums may not go down for the next three years. Taking an approved driving course could aid in reducing your rates by helping remove a citation from your record, but this option is limited in its impact. Overall, it helps to maintain a clean driving record for several years to best ensure affordable car insurance rates. Additionally, if an auto insurance policy contains any good driver discounts, even a minor speeding ticket could result in the loss of any related savings.

Is a citation a ticket or a warning?

A citation is another word for a ticket and should be taken seriously. Both terms refer to a document issued by local or state law enforcement explaining that you are accused of committing a traffic offense, like speeding. Failure to resolve your citation could create bigger problems. A warning is a less serious offense, typically a verbal notification by a police officer, that most likely will not be included on your motor vehicle record.

How long does a citation remain on the driving record?

In most states, any traffic violation remains on your driving record for an average of three years for first offenses. Repeat offenses can remain on the record anywhere between 5-10 years, and in some zero-tolerance states, permanently.

Can I still save on car insurance after a speeding citation?

Auto insurance premium increases implemented after a speeding ticket may last about three years, or until the violation is removed from your motor vehicle record. When your driving record no longer contains the citation, you may gradually see auto insurance costs begin to decrease if you can maintain a clean record. You may also be eligible for good driver discounts again to further lower the cost.

Written by
Lisa Melillo
Personal Finance Writer
Lisa Melillo is a freelance writer and entrepreneur with a background in personal finance, insurance, and international business. In addition to contributing to Bankrate, she has appeared in Money and and frequently ghostwrites for other entrepreneurs.
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Insurance Editor
Reviewed by
Director of corporate communications, Insurance Information Institute