What Is a Citation vs. a Ticket?

A popular question you often hear from new drivers and also some seasoned road warriors is “what’s the difference between a citation vs. a ticket?” Additionally — besides just wondering “what is a ticket?” and “what is a citation?” — you may be wondering how these may affect your car insurance and your driving record. While the exact answers to some of these questions may vary slightly by where you live, the general concepts are the same across the board.

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      What are the most common citations?

      Citations come in all shapes and sizes for varying levels of infractions. On one end, you have warnings or “fix-it” tickets, where you either receive no penalty or you receive no penalty as long as you show proof that you fixed the deficiency by a certain date. On the other end, you have moving violations that may even carry criminal punishments.

      [ Next: Does Car Insurance Go Down When I Turn 25? ]

      While data for the most common citations is not readily made public, data for the number of fatalities caused by certain citable infractions is available. Arguably, this information is more important as it identifies the most common violations that result in deaths.

      Is there a difference between a citation and a ticket?

      The answer is that a citation and a ticket are the same thing. These are two terms that both refer to getting cited or ticketed for a driving infraction. So, if you get pulled over for speeding and a police officer documents your infraction, you could interchangeably say you received a ticket, or that you received a citation.

      Not only are the two terms interchangeable with law enforcement, but the terms mean the same thing with insurance companies. Car insurance companies use your driving record to help determine your rate. Whether your infraction is called a citation or a ticket, it affects your rates the same.

      How can a ticket or a citation impact my car insurance?

      Your car insurance rate is dictated by many different factors — some within your control and some out of your control. One of the biggest contributing factors within your control is your driving record over the past 3-5 years. Insurance companies use internal point systems and algorithms to determine how each type of infraction affects your car insurance rate.

      [ See: Why Is My Auto Insurance Premium So High? ]

      Generally, these algorithms are tied to data and metrics that relate to the costs to the insurer associated with each infraction. Be aware that certain insurance companies might not weigh different infractions the same way your state does. Just because a ticket doesn’t cost you much with the state or get you points with its system, it might cost you a lot with your insurance rates.

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      How can I avoid getting a ticket?

      As you can see, citations and tickets can cost more than just the assessed fine, it becomes that much more important to try your best to avoid getting a ticket. If you are pulled over or given a ticket by a police officer, you may have options to keep that ticket off of your driving record.

      • Defensive driving class: Some states allow drivers a one-time option (or limited by several years) to take a defensive driving class to get certain tickets dismissed. When this happens, the ticket stays off your driving record upon successful completion of the class.
      • Contest the ticket in court: If you don’t believe you’re guilty of the offense, you can always contest the ticket in court. You’ll go before a judge and get to share your side of the story. In many states, the ticket might even be thrown out if the issuing police officer doesn’t show up to court. If you don’t contest the ticket, you will be guilty of the offense and it will go on your driving record (and be reported to your insurance company).
      • Request a deferral: Some jurisdictions allow drivers who haven’t had a ticket in a while to request a deferral. What this does is “put the ticket on hold” for some time. If you don’t get another ticket in that period, the ticket doesn’t hit your record. However, if you do get another ticket during the deferral period, you’ll see both tickets hit your record.  
      • Safe driving tools: Many insurance companies have safe driving tools that you can install in your car to track your driving habits. While this won’t do anything to force you to obey the laws, it may entice you to follow the rules of the road. When these devices record you being a better driver, your rates go down. With an extra financial incentive tied to driving better, you may be more prone to follow the rules. 

      [ Read: Road Signs: The Ultimate Driver Handbook ]

      Tips for safe driving and preventing a citation

      The best way to avoid getting a ticket is to obey the law and practice safe driving techniques. By knowing and employing some simple best practices, you can alleviate the risk of a ticket completely from your life.

      1. Don’t speed.
      2. Follow all posted traffic signs.
      3. Understand all traffic laws and research any laws you’re unsure about.
      4. Don’t tailgate or follow other cars too closely.
      5. Always drive defensively.
      6. Always look before changing lanes.
      7. Get in the right lane for upcoming turns as early as possible.
      8. Use your blinker.
      9. Never drink and drive.
      10. Expect the unexpected.
      11. Wear your seat belt.
      12. Adjust your mirrors properly before driving.
      13. Ensure your seat is set the correct distance from your airbag.
      14. Always check your equipment before driving (tires, blinkers and mirrors).

      We welcome your feedback on this article. Contact us at inquiries@thesimpledollar.com with comments or questions.

      Reviewed by

      • Nashalie Addarich
        Nashalie Addarich
        Insurance Editor

        Nasha Addarich is an editor at The Simple Dollar and a former attorney who specializes in home insurance, auto insurance, life insurance, and savings. She is a former contributing editor to Reviews.com.