Is There a Difference between a Citation and a Ticket?

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Pulled over (Photo: @breezlin via Twenty20)
Most parts of having a car are fun. You get to go from Point A to Point B on your own terms at your own time. You get to have fun behind the wheel if you’re a driving enthusiast. You get to go on road trips and long drives. You get to control the stereo.
But there are, of course, downsides. And one of the biggest downsides is when you see blue and red lights flashing in your rearview mirror. It’s never fun to get pulled over by a cop or a highway patrol, but it happens to almost every driver eventually. It’s just part of driving.
Whether your infraction is minor, like a burned-out taillight, or major, like a severe speeding ticket, you’ll likely get pulled over at some point. And when that time comes, you’ll likely be issued a ticket. Or maybe a citation … which is it?
You’ve probably heard of cops and highway patrol officers issuing both tickets and citations, and you may have been left wondering what the difference is between the two, or if there even is a difference. Read on to find out the difference between a ticket and a citation.

What’s the difference between a ticket and a citation?

Surprise! There is none! A ticket and a citation are different names for the exact same thing. If you get pulled over and are in trouble with the law, even for something minor, you’ll be issued a ticket or a citation. Different police officers and highway patrol officers may prefer one term over the other, and you might have a preference as well. But ultimately, they mean the exact same thing.

So, what is a ticket or a citation?

Now that we’ve established that tickets and citations are the same thing, let’s define what that thing actually is. A ticket or citation is simply documentation given by a police officer or highway patrol officer stating that you’ve broken the law. This can be for something as minor as a car missing a turn signal, or as major as driving under the influence.
A ticket or citation comes with instructions for how to pay any penalty fee that you owe.

Can a ticket or citation come without a penalty?

You can get pulled over without being issued a penalty. This is called a warning. When you’re given a warning it doesn’t go on your permanent record like a ticket or citation does. It will, however, remain visible to other law enforcement officers in your jurisdiction, so that they can make future decisions on how to cite you.
For instance, if you’re pulled over for driving with a burnt out license plate light, the officer might issue you a warning, and tell you to get it fixed. That won’t go on your driving record. However, if you’re pulled over two weeks later for the same problem, the new officer will be able to see that you were already issued a warning, and they’re unlikely to be lenient the second time.

What happens if you get a ticket or a citation?

If you get a ticket or citation, it’s important to follow the instructions given to you by the officer who pulled you over, as well as any instructions on the document. You will likely have to pay a fine, and you may also have to show up in court.
It’s obviously important to try and avoid tickets and citations, but almost everyone gets at least one eventually. Just don’t be confused if you hear multiple terms. They both mean the same thing!