Citation vs ticket: What’s the difference?

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Following the traffic laws is prudent for safety and financially, but sometimes we make mistakes. Getting fined for a traffic violation is burdening enough without getting confused by all the legal jargon. What’s the difference between citation and ticket? Is one more serious than the other? Does a citation go on your record, and for how long? 

Learning the nuances of traffic citations can help you deal with them if you ever find yourself receiving a driving ticket. Not only that, but understanding auto insurance rates includes knowing how citations can impact rates. With enough driving offenses, even the cheapest car insurance can become expensive.

Citation vs ticket

Is a citation a ticket or a warning? What is a citation ticket? The debate between citation vs ticket is a bit redundant, since both words refer to the same thing. A citation is merely a more formal word for a ticket. A warning, on the other hand, is less serious than a citation or ticket. 

Tickets or citations are given to drivers by law enforcement officers when the drivers are caught violating traffic laws. These citations represent a legal charge against the driver, attesting that they committed the specified traffic law violations. However, many of these infractions aren’t considered criminal offenses.

In general, tickets can be broken up into three main categories, based on the severity of the infraction and the associated consequences. Penalties from driving offenses can range from simple warnings to fines and potential jail time. All but warnings are likely to increase insurance premiums.

Types of citations


Depending on the circumstances and the severity of the violation, the law enforcement officers may choose to write a warning. A warning carries no monetary fine and will not impact your insurance rates. First-time offenders are generally more likely to receive a warning than someone with numerous infractions on their driving record. Even with a clean record, though, more serious traffic violations are unlikely to be met with a warning. 

Verbal warnings do not transfer to driving records, but in some areas, written warnings do. These can reduce the odds of getting off with a warning in the future. For instance, if an officer sees that a driver has received multiple speeding warnings, they are more likely to write a ticket instead.

Fines and penalties

If caught running a red light, speeding, or committing other basic moving violations, you may receive a ticket that includes fines and other penalties. For the most part, this category of tickets is for those offenses that cannot or are unlikely to lead to jail time and criminal charges. While these citations may not lead to incarceration, they generally do cause an increase in insurance rates. Most non-moving violations—those that occur while the vehicle is parked—fall under this category. For instance, expired tags and some types of illegal parking often fall into this category.

Misdemeanor and felony traffic violations

Generally, this category of ticket is for those infractions that are determined to be misdemeanors or felonies. Serious traffic violations, such as hit and runs or a Dui, can lead to severe fines, jail time, and a driver’s license suspension. These incidents can cause significant increases in insurance premiums, or the insurance company may choose to drop these offenders as customers, canceling their insurance policy.

Do tickets affect my insurance rate

Not only do tickets typically affect insurance rates, but different types of tickets tend to impact insurance premiums to varying degrees. Speeding tickets and less severe traffic infractions generally cause a smaller insurance rate hike. In contrast, tickets for auto accidents and serious traffic crimes lead to more significant rate increases. Repeat offenses of the more extreme traffic crimes can even see you dropped by your insurance company or facing incarceration.

For instance, getting your first speeding citation with an otherwise clean record could increase your premiums as much as 20-23%, depending on whether you have full or minimum coverage. More serious tickets, like a DUI, can raise insurance rates significantly more and may even lead to a termination of the insurance policy or ineligibility to renew.

Clean record1 speeding ticketAccident
Full Coverage$1,555$1,865$2,090
Minimum coverage$545$674$784

How long do tickets stay on my record?

Speeding citations and other driving incidents stay on records for around three years, in most cases. More serious violations, such as DUIs and reckless driving, can stay on your driving record for up to ten years. However, there is some variance between states.

As in Massachusetts, some states have enacted laws to keep insurance companies from penalizing drivers for incidents that are more than a few years old. And while most states use a point and demerit system to track driver’s mistakes, eight states do not. These demerit points can eventually lead to license suspension and potentially loss of insurance if the driver commits enough infractions. The states that don’t use a point system are Hawaii, Kansas, Louisiana, Minnesota, Mississippi, Rhode Island, Washington and Wyoming.

Impacts from a citation can range significantly. A lot depends on how severe the infraction is and whether the driver has a clean record. Speeding tickets can lead to a 20-23% rate increase, as well as light to severe fines, and will generally stay on your record for three years. Being at fault for a car accident, or being ticketed for reckless driving, can remain on your record for up to ten years, lead to a 44% rate increase, hefty fines, and a possible suspension of your driver’s license. Getting a DUI ticket or conviction can lead to a dramatic rate increase, heavy fines, a possible suspension of your driver’s license, potential jail time and will stay on your record for 5-10 years.

The takeaway

  • Tickets and citations are two words for the same thing.
  • Citations can range all the way from warnings to misdemeanors and felonies.
  • Citations often lead to an increase in insurance rates.
  • The most extreme traffic violations can lead to jail time.
  •  Violations usually stay on driving records for 3-10 years, depending on the severity of the infraction.

In the world of traffic violations, a citation is another word for a ticket. When a driver breaks the traffic laws, they may be written a ticket for doing so. These citations can range in penalties from a warning to a fine to jail time and suspension of their drivers license. Anything beyond a warning is likely to lead to an increase in auto insurance premiums, even with the best car insurance companies. In general, the cleaner a person’s driving records, the more likely they will receive a warning. However, severe or repeat violations are likely to result in serious consequences.


Coverage Utilizes Quadrant Information Services to analyze quoted rates from thousands of zip codes across all 50 states and Washington, D.C., using the top 15 carriers by premiums written by state. Quoted rates are based around the profiles of a 30 year male and female with a clean driving record, good credit and the following full coverage details:

  • $100k bodily injury liability per person
  • $300k bodily injury liability coverage per crash
  • $100k property damage liability coverage per crash
  • $500 collision coverage deductible
  • $500 comprehensive coverage deductible

Minimum coverages were applied to match state requirements. Both drivers used a new, financed 2018 Toyota Camry, commuting 5 days a week and driving 12,000 miles per year.

For the teen driver, the quotes were based around a middle-aged, married couple with the above full coverage parameters adding either a male or female 16 yr old driver to their insurance policy.

An accident was defined as an at-fault accident with $3k in property damage. A speeding incident was defined as speeding 16-20 MPH over the limit.

These rates were publicly sourced from insurer filings and should be used for comparative purposes only – your own quotes may be different.

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