Rachel Bodine graduated from college with a BA in English. She has since worked as a Feature Writer in the insurance industry and gained a deep knowledge of state and countrywide insurance laws and rates. Her research and writing focus on helping readers understand their insurance coverage and how to find savings. Her expert advice on insurance has been featured on sites like PhotoEnforced, All...

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Jeffrey Johnson is a legal writer with a focus on personal injury. He has worked on personal injury and sovereign immunity litigation in addition to experience in family, estate, and criminal law. He earned a J.D. from the University of Baltimore and has worked in legal offices and non-profits in Maryland, Texas, and North Carolina. He has also earned an MFA in screenwriting from Chapman Univer...

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Reviewed by Jeffrey Johnson
Insurance Lawyer Jeffrey Johnson

UPDATED: Mar 29, 2022

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Just the Basics

  • A citation is a written notice of a traffic violation, usually given to a driver by a police officer
  • Penalties or fines depend on the type of citation and your driving record
  • Insurance rates may go up for certain kinds of citations

We all do our best to obey traffic laws, but it’s always possible to make an unintended mistake. When that happens, you will most likely be stopped by a police officer, and receive what is known as a traffic citation.

You may be wondering, is a citation a ticket?

Do you have to pay fines, and does a citation go on your record?

These are all normal questions to ask if you find yourself in this predicament, or if you’re simply looking to learn more about what a citation means for your driving record and insurance rates.

What’s the difference between a citation and a ticket?

There is generally no difference between a citation and a ticket. A citation is a written record of an infraction committed while driving or while parked — a ticket is just the more common way to say it.

While there may be some exceptions, these two terms really mean the same thing: that you broke one or more traffic laws in the state and will be required to pay a fine or appear in court, sometimes both.

A citation or traffic ticket will include:

  • Your name and license number
  • The name of the police officer who issued the citation
  • The type of violation
  • Citation number (you’ll need this if you’re paying the fine online)
  • Other details, like the penalty amount and how to pay it

Keep in mind, a citation is not the same thing as a warning. Warnings are notices that you should not commit a certain violation again but carry no financial penalty or require further action on your part. In most places, receiving a warning means the violation will not be reflected on your record.

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Types of Citations

There may be many reasons why someone could receive a police citation, and it largely depends on the laws of their state, their driving record, and the type of violation:

  • Non-moving violations. Commonly known as parking tickets, these usually refer to parking-related offenses, such as letting the meter expire or leaving your car in a no-parking zone. In most cases, nonmoving violations are not contested in court.
  • Moving violations. These are associated with traffic offenses while the car is in motion or being driven. They can include things like speeding, running a red light, or even following a car too closely. Fines for moving violations tend to be high.
  • Misdemeanor or criminal violations. These cases include serious felonies while driving, like driving while under the influence, driving recklessly, or committing a hit-and-run. They may require jail time in addition to fines or license suspension.

 Here are a few more common reasons for getting a traffic citation:

  • Driving above or significantly below the speed limit
  • Distracted driving
  • Unsafe lane changing
  • Driving without a valid license, or it is expired
  • Failing to have valid car insurance

I got a citation; what do I do now?

Your options will depend on the type of violation and where you live, which is why it’s important to always be informed of your state or city’s traffic laws, even one you are just visiting.

First, you will be given a time frame by which to respond. During this time, you can decide which route is best for you — just make sure you don’t forget the response deadline, or you may find yourself having to pay more fines and other penalties.

In general, you typically have a few options:

  • You can plead guilty and pay the required fine. In most cases, it is possible to pay online, but you may also pay by mail, phone or in person.
  • You can contest the charge in court. If you are found not guilty, the violation will be removed from your record. However, if you are found guilty, you will have to pay the original fines as well as court fees, and any points would remain.
  • You can enroll in a “defensive driving course.” Commonly known as traffic school, taking one of these courses will most likely be in addition to paying the fine. Doing this may, however, keep points off your license.

Always make sure to consider the cost and risk of paying a penalty versus fighting it in court. Remember also that each infraction may require different methods of resolution. If the citation included a criminal charge, for example, other steps may be required.

Most importantly, make sure to keep your citation number handy. You will most likely need to refer to it throughout this process, regardless of which route you take. The citation number on a ticket is usually found near the top right-hand corner.

Can I ignore a citation?

The short answer is, definitely not. If you’ve received a citation, action is required on your part to resolve it. Ignoring or failing to properly deal with one could result in:

  • More fines
  • Criminal charges
  • Increased car insurance premiums

Will it appear on my record?

A citation could remain on your record for about three years, but in certain cases, it may take longer. Getting too many violations within a short time span, for example, could mean they won’t be removed for five to ten years. It also depends on the kind of citation you get, and whether or not it involves criminal charges.

So, the answer is yes, it will appear on your driving record, but as long as you’ve paid the fines, or resolved it through the court system, you can rest assured it will eventually be cleared.

What does a citation mean for my insurance rates?

Depending on how many infractions you’ve had, and what types, there is a chance your insurance premium may go up. In general, the more serious the violation, the higher the chance of a price hike. Parking tickets, for example, will probably not increase your insurance rates, but too many of those could affect your credit score, which could then cause your monthly rates to be higher when renewing your insurance.

Moving violations can cause insurance premiums to increase, especially if you’ve had several within a short time period.

The good news is, for first-time offenses, there’s a chance your premiums won’t increase. You may want to check with your insurance company to see if they have a first-time ticket forgiveness program.

When your license no longer shows the violation, you may start to see your insurance premiums go down, and may even be eligible for good driver discounts, depending on which insurance company you have.

Keep in mind also that too many citations for motor vehicle offenses can result in your insurance company taking the following actions against you:

  • Send you a policy non-renewal. This is a written notice stating your insurance company will no longer offer you coverage in the near future, and they won’t allow you to renew it when the time comes.
  • Send you an immediate letter of cancellation. This may occur if your license is suspended or revoked, possibly in the case of a criminal citation.

Citations or Tickets: Now You Know

Besides understanding that citation and ticket mean the same thing, you also now know they can be categorized into three different types: nonmoving violations, moving violations, and misdemeanor or criminal violations. Depending on your region, traffic citations can be dealt with in various ways, typically by paying the fine noted on the ticket.

Though it can be stressful to receive a citation, just know it is a fairly common experience, and that there are a few steps you can take to resolve it.

Always drive safely, aware of the traffic laws around you, and make sure your car insurance is up to date and accessible to you in case of a stop.