What Is a Citation and How Does It Affect Your Car Insurance?

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As a driver, few things are worse than being pulled over by a law enforcement officer and getting a ticket for a moving violation. While you may refer to the paper notice you receive as a “ticket,” the correct legal term is “citation.”

Whether you call it a ticket or a citation, it’s important to know how this notice affects your auto insurance rates.

Here’s what you need to know about citations and how they impact your car insurance premium:

What is a citation?

A citation is a written notice you may receive if you’re caught breaking a traffic law. A citation also details information to resolve the issue, such as paying a fine or appearing in court. Generally, a police officer will ask you to sign the citation before handing you a copy for your records.

Some people confuse a citation with a fine, but they’re uniquely different. A citation is a legal notice from a police officer for allegedly breaking the law. By contrast, paying a fine is one of the ways you can satisfy the citation. The other way is to fight the ticket by appearing in court before a judge who will decide your guilt or innocence.

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How do you get a citation?

You can get a citation if a police officer witnesses you committing a traffic violation. You can also get a citation if there’s sufficient evidence of a violation from a video camera, witnesses, or other sources. For example, an officer may respond to an accident scene and issue a citation to an at-fault driver if there’s ample evidence at the accident scene or from witness accounts.

If you receive a citation, you may have to pay a fine, or your license could even be suspended. Receiving jail time for a traffic ticket rarely occurs, but it’s possible if the violation is severe. On top of the legal trouble, your insurance premium could spike if you receive multiple tickets or a citation for a serious violation.

What are the main types of citations?

Citations typically come in the following forms:

  • Parking citations (like parking illegally)
  • Infractions (such as speeding)
  • Misdemeanors or felonies (like DUIs)

Parking tickets and other non-moving violations shouldn’t affect your insurance rates since most states don’t report them on your driving record. By contrast, you can receive a citation for a moving violation, meaning you committed an offense while driving your vehicle. Moving violations are reported on your driving record and may affect your insurance rates.

Here are some of the main types of citations for moving violations:

  • Driving over the speed limit: A police officer may let you go with only a warning if you’re caught driving a few miles an hour over the speed limit. More serious offenses will likely earn you a citation, and higher speeds typically result in higher fines. Speeding tickets appear on your driving record, which could affect your insurance rates, unless you’re eligible to attend traffic school.
  • Running a red light or failing to stop or yield: Penalties vary by state for red light and stop sign violations, but you can typically expect a substantial fine.
  • Reckless driving: Reckless driving is a serious moving violation that involves driving with disregard for the safety of others or property. Reckless driving can result in a hefty fine and even jail time in some cases.
  • Driving under the influence (DUI) or driving while impaired (DWI): Over 11,000 people died in 2020 from crashes involving drunk drivers, according to data from the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration. Driving while impaired is a major violation, and penalties are accordingly steep, including fines in the thousands of dollars, loss of your driver’s license, and jail time. Your insurer might also cancel your auto policy when it’s time for renewal.

What are some of the worst traffic citations?

When it comes to the impact a citation has on your insurance rates, not all moving violations carry the same weight. For example, a citation for a violation that causes an accident typically carries a higher likelihood of raising your premium than, say, driving with your lights off at night.

The penalties for different traffic violations also vary by state. Many states use a point system that adds points to your driving record when you get certain citations. The worse the violation, the higher the points — and after racking up a certain number of points in a designated period, you’ll face additional penalties.

Here’s a breakdown of certain types of citations and the points you get from them in California:

  • Speeding: 1 point
  • Hit-and-run: 2 points
  • DUI while operating a commercial vehicle: 3 points

How do you resolve a citation?

Your options for resolving a citation can vary depending on the state where you received the ticket. Generally, the following resolutions apply in most states:

  • Plead guilty and pay the fine. Paying the fine may sting, but it’s also a fast way to resolve a citation and move on. Pleading guilty means you must pay the full amount on the citation before the due date, unless the ticket states your appearance in court is mandatory.
  • Attend traffic school. You may be eligible for traffic school if a sufficient amount of time has passed since you last completed traffic school (for example, 18 months in California). Upon successful completion, your violation won’t be visible to insurance carriers on your driving record, so your insurance rates should remain unaffected.
  • Contest the ticket and appear in court. You’ll need to request to schedule a court trial before the deadline noted on the citation if you wish to contest it. You’ll receive a court date, and the police officer who issued your citation will typically appear at the trial. When your case is called, you or your lawyer will state your case, and the officer will detail what led them to issue your citation. The judge can either dismiss your charges, lower your fine, or order you to pay your fine in full to close the case.
  • Plead guilty and request community service. If you can’t afford to pay the bail amount on your citation, you may be able to plead guilty and request that some or all of the bail be paid through community service, not cash. You may need to meet specific financial criteria by filling out a declaration of your income and expenses with the court. You may also qualify for a payment plan to pay your fine in monthly installments.
  • Hire an attorney. Hiring an attorney may make sense if you choose to fight your case in court, especially for complex incidents or cases with severe penalties.

Steps to resolve a citation

Let’s say you receive a speeding ticket for driving 30 miles per hour in a 25 mph school zone. Here are the steps you can take to resolve your citation:

  • Sign the citation. When the officer pulls you over, they’ll ask you to sign a citation with a promise to appear in court or resolve the ticket by a specific date.
  • Pay the fine or request a court date. You can either pay the fine or contact the court by phone or in person to request a court date. If you pay the fine, you may be eligible to complete traffic school to keep the citation off your driving record.
  • Appear in court. If you choose to do so (or if your citation mandates it), you can appear in court and address the judge. After hearing the case, the judge will make a decision.

Car insurance rates after getting a citation

There are no concrete rules that determine when an insurer will or won’t raise your rates after you get a citation. Ultimately, each insurance carrier follows its own criteria to define risk and determine how certain violations influence their rates. A speeding ticket may impact your rates with some car insurers, but not all.

A speeding ticket might cause your premium to rise 20% to 30%, according to CapitalOne. For its part, Progressive policyholders who got their first speeding citation in three years saw their car insurance rates rise 15% on average for a six-month policy.

Generally, non-moving violations such as a parking ticket or tinted windows won’t affect your car insurance rate. Conversely, serious violations such as driving under the influence or reckless driving will likely cause your insurer to review your rates and adjust your premiums accordingly.

Keep in mind: Your driving history is essential in determining if your premiums will rise after receiving a traffic citation. Remember, most states assign specific points to your driving record whenever you violate a traffic law. For example, Missouri adds three points to your driving record for speeding. If you get eight or more points within 18 months, the state will suspend your license. If you receive several points in a short time, your insurer will likely raise your rates.

Resolving your citation won’t necessarily drop your auto insurance rates. You can, however, keep your insurance rates from rising by completing a traffic safety course. Traffic school eligibility requirements vary by state, but usually, you must not have received a ticket for a specific period (such as 12 months) to qualify.

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Disclaimer: All insurance-related services are offered through Young Alfred.

About the author

Tim Maxwell

Tim Maxwell is a financial writer with over two decades of experience. Tim’s work has appeared in USA Today, Washington Post, Bankrate, LendingTree, Fox Business, Credible and more. He also publishes Incomist, a personal finance site that focuses on paying off debt by earning extra income in creative ways.

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