Traffic Citation vs. Ticket: What's the Difference?

"You have a terrible day, sir."
"You have a terrible day, sir." / aijohn784/iStock via Getty Images

Motorists who receive a traffic ticket have good reason to be bummed. A ticket usually comes with a fine of $150 or more, a possible court appearance, and a likely bump in their automotive insurance. It’s an expensive and time-consuming infraction.

One might wonder whether there’s a difference between a traffic citation and a traffic ticket.

It’s pretty easy to explain. According to Bankrate, there isn’t one.

In the context of a traffic violation, there’s nothing that separates a citation from a ticket. The terms are interchangeable and may be used depending on which word the ticketing officer or police department prefers. Citation is the proper legal term for a written record of a traffic violation, but ticket doesn’t signify anything different. Citation or ticket, you’ll still be penalized, fined, and perhaps get points on your license. One isn’t any better or worse than the other.

Typically, you’ll receive a ticket for speeding, failure to obey traffic lights or signs, or driving under the influence. Not wearing a seat belt or driving without a license plate are also possible reasons to get written up. Once you’re in receipt of the ticket—which is considered a legal document—you have an obligation to pay the fine or appear in court to dispute it. Failure to do either could result in additional charges or even license revocation.

A traffic warning is something else. That’s typically a verbal or written admonishment by a police officer that you’ve violated a traffic law and to be more cautious in the future. You’re more likely to get off with a warning if it’s your first offense.

Citation or ticket, you’ll likely get points on your license. (The number depends both on the violation and the state in which you reside.) These points can impact your insurance premiums, but they can be lessened through defensive driving courses or simply fall off over time. Though one isn't any better or worse than the other, you don't want to get either one.

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