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Difference between a citation and a speeding ticket

policeman pulling a woman over
Ariel Skelley/Getty Images
policeman pulling a woman over
Ariel Skelley/Getty Images
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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.

Citations, moving violations and speeding tickets

A traffic citation, also called an auto citation or a ticket, is a written notice that you receive 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.

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. A speeding ticket is a piece of paper given to a driver by the police officer, indicating the driver was driving above the posted speed limit. 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 rate.
  • 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 illustrates how average annual premiums increase after one speeding ticket on a national level. As you can see, just one speeding ticket can have significant financial consequences.

Average annual full coverage car insurance rates

Clean driving record After one speeding ticket Percent increase
National $1,771 $2,138 21%

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 you are deemed a high risk driver you not only face higher insurance rates, but also face a harder time securing an insurance policy.
  • 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

Methodology

Bankrate utilizes Quadrant Information Services to analyze 2022 rates for all ZIP codes and carriers in all 50 states and Washington, D.C. Rates are weighted based on the population density in each geographic region. Quoted rates are based on a 40-year-old male and female driver with a clean driving record, good credit and the following full coverage limits:

  • $100,000 bodily injury liability per person
  • $300,000 bodily injury liability per accident
  • $50,000 property damage liability per accident
  • $100,000 uninsured motorist bodily injury per person
  • $300,000 uninsured motorist bodily injury per accident
  • $500 collision deductible
  • $500 comprehensive deductible

To determine minimum coverage limits, Bankrate used minimum coverage that meets each state’s requirements. Our base profile drivers own a 2020 Toyota Camry, commute five days a week and drive 12,000 miles annually.

Incidents: Rates were calculated by evaluating our base profile with the following incidents applied: clean record (base) and a single speeding ticket.

These are sample rates and should only be used for comparative purposes.

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 Reviews.com and frequently ghostwrites for other entrepreneurs.
Edited by
Insurance Editor
Reviewed by
Director of corporate communications, Insurance Information Institute