Difference between a citation and a speeding ticket


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If you were pulled over for driving over the speed limit, you may have received a citation for a speeding violation. So what is a citation vs. a ticket? In most cases, they are the same thing. A ticket or a citation are documents explaining that you are accused of committing a traffic offense, like speeding.

If you are wondering how much it is going to cost you and what happens next, you need to know more about tickets, how they can affect your insurance rates and what you can do about it.

Citation vs. ticket

What is a citation? It is a written record of something you did wrong. “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 tickets, like parking citations, 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 driving your car. Some of the most common tickets for moving violations include:

  • Speeding tickets: The severity of this auto citation usually depends on how fast you were going and what the speed limit was. If you were driving just a few miles over the speed limit, for example, you may receive a warning to slow down. A warning will not likely go on your driving record, since there is no formal notice of the incident (although the police station might keep it on file for a while). Your auto insurance rates generally will not go up for a warning. However, in any case where you are driving over the speed limit, regardless of how much over the speed limit that is, you could receive a formal citation. If your speed was considered excessive, you could even receive a reckless driving citation. These citations would appear on your driving record and could affect your insurance rates.
  • 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 jail time. This ticket will likely appear on your 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.

When you are pulled over by an officer and issued a citation, the officer will 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 accept 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 is important.
Be calm and courteous: 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 you need to do following your citation. A failure to appear in court can mean a misdemeanor, a substantial fine or even jail time. Even paying your fine late might mean you need to pay more money to resolve the citation.

Make notes about everything you can remember: Include the date and time, 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 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 points at which 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 record, or you may be asked to take a 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 points or a smaller fine.

Hiring an attorney to help you with the process of rectifying a traffic citation may be a wise decision. An attorney 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 insurance rate could go up if you receive a traffic citation.

First-time auto citation

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

Repeat traffic citations

Too many driving infractions, especially if they result in your 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 license is still valid (meaning it has not been suspended or revoked), you may get a notice of non-renewal from your auto insurer. This notice gives you advanced warning that you will not be able to renew your policy with that company.
  • If your license has been suspended, you could get a notice of cancellation from the insurance company. This can happen at any time during your policy.

In addition to fines, getting a ticket adds points to your driving record. If you have multiple violations, you could lose your license. If you get a traffic ticket, you may see the applicable surcharge on your next policy renewal. It is important to note that some policies 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?

Speeding ticket prices vary according to state and speed. Your insurance rate may be affected by the speeding citation, but the amount that your premium increases will be partly tied to the level of your offense. Minor speeding tickets may cause premiums to increase less than major violations, for example.

Can going to traffic school help my insurance rates?

In many states, earning a driving school certificate of completion can reduce the points on your driving record. This may reduce the cost of your auto insurance if your company offers a discount for the driving course. Your local DMV can give you information about what options are available in your state.

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 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 an officer, that may not be included on your official driving record.