Traffic Citation (Legal Definition: All You Need To Know)

What is a traffic citation?

How do you legally define it?

What are the important elements that you must know!

Keep reading as we have gathered exactly the information that you need!

Let’s learn about traffic violations!

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Traffic citation meaning

What is a traffic citation?

How do you define traffic citation?

A traffic citation is a summons issued by law enforcement against a person violating traffic laws or charged with a traffic violation potentially leading to criminal charges.

The “citation” is an actual document where the law enforcement agent indicates the following:

  • Description of the traffic violation or criminal charges 
  • Notification to the accused to appear in court 
  • Provide details as to the potential fine or penalty required to be paid
  • Details on how the accused can plead guilty or contest the traffic ticket 

It’s worth noting that a citation can make reference to one traffic violation or more than one.

Why are traffic citations issued

Traffic citations can be issued for many reasons.

The common reasons why traffic citations are issued are the following:

  • Speeding 
  • Defective vehicle parts
  • Using a cell phone while driving
  • Changing lanes when not authorized
  • Passing through a red light
  • Driving without insurance 

In essence, a traffic ticket along with a traffic citation is issued to a motorist violating the traffic laws or the criminal code.

Traffic citation vs ticket

What is the difference between a citation and a ticket?

In many cases, the terms traffic citation and traffic ticket are used interchangeably.

They both refer to a document given to an individual who is made aware of a motor vehicle violation by a law enforcement officer.

Citations can be classified as:

  • Parking citation
  • Civil citation 
  • Criminal citation 

Tickets can be classified as:

  • Non-moving traffic tickets
  • Moving traffic tickets
  • Criminal traffic tickets 

Types of citations 

What are the different types of traffic citations?

Is a traffic violation a criminal offense?

Do traffic citations go on your record?

Written warnings

Before we discuss the traffic citations, let’s discuss warnings issued by a police officer.

In some cases, a written warning may be issued by the law enforcement officer.

Written warnings are issued when the police officer believes that you must be notified of an issue or potential violation without taking it to the next step of issuing a citation order.

Generally, warnings will not be officially recorded in your driver’s record but may appear internally on the police records or notes.

Civil traffic citation  

The first type of citation is a civil traffic citation.

It’s a “civil” citation as the accusations or charges against the motorist or civil in nature representing a fine and possibly come costs.

Typically, when you are issued a traffic ticket, you will be required to respond to the citation within the legally established timeline.

The court handling this type of citation is the traffic court.

In many jurisdictions, the options are to:

  • Pay the fine and costs (and be deemed guilty of the violation)
  • Not pay the fine and contest it in the traffic court

In some jurisdictions, you can get a deferral where you pay a fee and your ticket can potentially be dismissed if you observe a clean driving record for a certain period of time.

In many cases, civil traffic citations are paid by the violator using an online platform offered by the state.

Payments can also be made by mailing a check to the address indicated on the traffic citation ticket.

Traffic tickets do appear on your driver’s record.

Criminal traffic citation 

Another type of traffic citation is criminal traffic citation.

This is issued for more serious traffic violations and offenses that are “criminal” in nature and dealt with through the criminal courts.

You will be issued a citation to appear in court for criminal traffic violations and respond to the criminal accusations made against you.

In many cases, criminal accusations are issued against individuals who:

  • Drive under the influence of alcohol (DUI)
  • Drive under the influence of a drug 
  • Drive recklessly 
  • Drive in a way to put others in danger 
  • Hit and run 
  • Driving with a suspended license
  • Driving without a valid license

The initial court appearance is called the “arraignment” when you hear the prosecution lay out the charges against you.

You have the option to:

  • Plead guilty to the criminal charges
  • Plead not guilty and defend yourself
  • Negotiate other legal resolutions with the prosecutor 

Criminal charges are pursued in criminal courts whereas traffic tickets are pursued in traffic courts.

Needless to say that such violations appear on your driving record and can show up on background checks when you apply for a job.


What is the traffic citation definition?

Is a parking ticket a traffic violation?

Let’s look at a summary of our findings.

Traffic citation:

  • A traffic citation is an actual document issued by a law enforcement officer informing a motorist or driver of a traffic violation 
  • A citation may be issued for a civil traffic violation or a criminal traffic violation 
  • Traffic citations issued along with fines, penalties or for criminal charges go on your record if you are found guilty of them 
Traffic infraction 
Citation ticket 
Police citation 
Court summons
Types of summons 
Traffic violations 
Automatic citation 
Uniform traffic citation 
Signature bond 
Traffic ticket 
Flight risk
Bail bondsman 
Bail jumping 
Bond forfeiture 
What is a citation 
Is a speeding ticket a misdemeanor 
Are traffic violations crimes 
Do parking tickets go on your record