If you are issued with a citation, working out the information that has been included can be difficult – especially if this is the first time that you have been in a situation like this. Before you leap to instant panic as an automatic reaction, read on for everything you need to know about receiving a citation – including how to read and interpret the ticket!
What Is A Citation?
In the simplest terms, a traffic citation, also known as a traffic ticket, is a summons that can be issued by any law enforcement officer and presented to an individual who has been accused of committing one of a number of traffic offenses.
Depending on the nature of the ticket, the citation may be an order to appear in court, usually to pay a fine that is associated with the citation or, alternatively, to contest the charge.
Traffic citations are used as the main method of enforcing a number of traffic laws, and historically, their primary purpose has been to try and reform existing bad drivers, as well as deter any unsafe drivers from committing the same offense. A traffic citation is the same as a traffic ticket – the two names are interchangeable.
The main function of a traffic citation is to act as legal notice to the individual who has been accused of violating the law, alerting them of these potential violations. In addition to offering this information, a citation will also act as a court summons. Any traffic court prosecutors may also file a charge based on the information contained in the traffic citation.
Most jurisdictions will consider traffic tickets and citations to be strict-liability offenses, and this means that there is no need for the court to prove criminal intent before they convict – all that has to occur is for an individual to commit a forbidden or prohibited activity, while they were operating a motor vehicle.
Any police officer has a right to issue a citation if the driver is caught breaking the driving laws of a particular state, and motivations can range from a broken tail light to more serious offenses, such as driving without a license, or driving while under the influence of alcohol – for more serious crimes, a citation is usually issued alongside any arrest.
It should be noted, however, that a citation by itself is not the same as an arrest – merely a requirement to appear in court or pay a fine. If you pay the fine, you will not need to appear before the court, but you should be aware that this will count as a guilty plea to the charge that you are facing.
All individuals issued with a citation will be required to sign the citation at the time it is issued, and this acknowledges that you have received the citation and that you understand that you have a duty to appear in court. Signing a citation is not, however, a sign that you agree with the charge, or an admission of your guilt.
How To Read Your Citation Ticket
There are a few key areas to read on your citation ticket, and these include:
- Ticket/citation number – this is stamped in the upper right-hand corner and will be the number referred to on any police records and in a courtroom.
- Type of offense – just below the citation number, there is a small box that will be checked for one of three types of offense – traffic, non-traffic, or misdemeanor
- Personal details – the first section of your ticket will include your name, address, height, weight, and sex – these details will be taken from your driver’s license
- Vehicle details – your ticket will also include details about the make, model, and year of your vehicle. Your license plate number will also be recorded.
- Officer information – the ticket will contain information about the law enforcement professional who issued it, including their name and badge number, and the signature of the officer who wrote the ticket. They will also tick a box to determine whether you can pay the fine without attending court, or whether you will be required to appear in court. If an appearance is required, the time and date will also be included.
- Back of the ticket – the back of the ticket will also include important information about which court you will be required to appear in, or where you will need to pay the fine you have been issued.
What Are The Types Of Citation?
Traffic citations come in a range of types, and the most common reasons for being issued a citation include:
Speeding is amongst the most common reasons to be awarded a citation, and the exact nature and conditions will depend on the state that you are located in.
Whether it is using a cellphone while driving, applying makeup, eating, or being distracted by the radio, driving while distracted can cause a serious danger to other road users, and you could receive a citation for this. Sadly, thanks to the growing popularity of cellphones, cases of driving while distracted are at an all-time high.
Traffic control devices such as traffic lights, stop signs, traffic islands, and other calming measures are there to keep motorists and road users safe, and disregarding them could result in a serious accident. If a law enforcement officer feels that you have been disregarding traffic control devices, you may find yourself faced with a ticket.
Failing to indicate a change of direction, or use turn signals in plenty of time means that other motorists and road users around you may not have adequate time to prepare for the change you are making, and this can result in collisions and other accidents. A citation may be issued if you make a turn or a maneuver without using the correct turn signals, or using these too late.
Any improper or illegal turns can also be very dangerous and may be punished with a citation and subsequent court summons.
Where a specific right of way is in place on a public highway, the requirements and rules will be clearly laid out and visible to all drivers. If you fail to yield the right of way when the requirement to do so has been clearly demonstrated, you may receive a citation.
While violating parking rules and regulations may seem harmless, the consequences could be severe – especially if your poor parking results in entrances and exits being blocked, roads being obstructed, or there is a risk of danger to other motorists and road users. When you are preparing to stop and park, always double-check for any restrictions that may be in place.
No matter which state you are residing in, you are legally required to possess a valid driver’s license – and failure to do so is deemed unlawful. If you are found to be operating a vehicle without a valid proof of license, you could find yourself facing some harsh penalties, including traffic citations.
Leaving the scene of an accident is a serious offense in almost all states, and the potential penalties are exacerbated if anyone was injured or even killed in the crash. Being involved in a hit and run can land you a traffic citation, but it is more likely to also incur even more serious consequences, including a criminal record that can have a seriously detrimental impact on your future prospects.
Most states will also have strict laws in place that make it illegal for drivers to drive with a “wilful” disregard for safety, or from driving recklessly, and this can cover behavior such as evading the police or racing with other cars.
What Are The Consequences Of A Citation?
If you are convicted of a traffic violation, this can have a detrimental effect on your future driving privileges. You may find that obtaining insurance becomes more expensive in the future, and any failure to appear in court or pay a fine could see you issued with an arrest warrant – and the consequences of this can become far more serious.
In the short term, you may be faced with a fine, and this can be very high, depending on the state in which the incident takes place. In addition, an increasing number of states are implementing “points systems”, and these can track the number of offenses that are committed by a driver, as well as the severity of these offenses.
Each state can then allocate a different number of points to different offenses – the more severe the violation, the more points it will carry. This means that drivers can be monitored over time, and any driver who clocks up a specific number of points within a specific time period could have their license revoked or suspended.
Even states that are not currently using such a points system can list any citations and tickets on your official record, and acquiring too many tickets could cost you your license.
Insurance companies are also able to have full access to DMV records, and you are very likely to find that your rates and premiums rise as you gain more black marks on your driving record.
From an insurance company’s perspective, a greater number of violations means a less-careful driver, and this means that you are more likely to be involved in an accident, and need to claim. As a result, rates rise – and the costs can sometimes be prohibitive.
What Information Is Included In Your Traffic Citation?
There will be a range of important pieces of information included on your traffic ticket, and this includes:
- Citation number/case number – this is usually in the top right of your ticket
- The name and a description of the violation or violations
- The level of offense – whether this is a misdemeanor or an infraction
- Whether the violation is correctable
- The name of the officer and the issuing agency
- The address and phone number of the court in question
- The date you must appear in court
What Happens After I Receive My Citation
Once you have received your citation, you will then receive a courtesy Violation Information Notice will be sent to the address on your ticket, and this will be mailed by the court around two to three weeks after your ticket is issued. This will include important information, including:
- The amount due on your ticket
- Whether your ticket requires a “mandatory appearance” – this means that you need to see the judge
- Whether you will be permitted to attend traffic school
- The date you must appear in court or take care of the ticket
- Whether you can have the violation dismissed by showing proof of correction
You will be able to access relevant information about your ticket online, but this can take between two and three weeks to appear.
How Can I Take Care Of My Ticket?
If you are issued a traffic citation, there are a few options that you can use to take care of it, and the exact solutions will depend on the exact nature of your traffic violation.
For certain qualifying violations, you may be able to attend traffic school -note that this is only an option if you have not previously attended traffic school in the last eighteen months. You will need to pay a fee for this – the exact amount will be included on your citation – but successful completion of traffic school will conceal the ticket from specific parties, including auto insurance companies, as well as stopping points from showing up on your DMV record – both of these keep your insurance costs down.
It should be noted that Class A. B or Commercial Class C drivers can attend drivers’ school as a resolution for a citation, but the conviction will not be hidden from the driver’s record.
Also known as a bail forfeiture, another option is to forfeit or pay, the ticket – this is the fastest, easiest way to settle your ticket. You will not need to appear in court, and your case will be closed once you have paid the ticket. If you cannot meet the financial obligation in full, there is an option to pay in installments, and this will usually be automatically charged to your credit card.
In some cases, you may wish to contest the ticket, and this will involve you visiting court to visit a judge, or requesting a trial by written declaration.
What Is A Correctable Violation?
With some tickets, you will see the “yes” box ticked under the section titled “correctable violation”. If this is the case, you may be able to have the violation dismissed, provided that you fix the violation and submit the proof, sign off citation, and the required dee to the court.
You can then have your case dismissed, and reduce the amount you pay. There are a number of types of correctable violations, and these include:
If you receive a citation for driving without insurance but did have insurance at the time, you can show the proof of this to the clerk, either by mail or in person. This also applies to situations where you were ticketed for a lack of a valid driver’s license but did have a license at the time.
A transaction fee will also be due. Note that if you did not have insurance when the ticket was issued, or you obtained insurance after the citation was received, you will be required to pay the full fine.
If you are given a ticket for an unregistered vehicle, you can show the clerk your proof of current registration at the time, or proof that the vehicle has been scrapped.
You may also receive a ticket for equipment violations, such as tinted windows, bald tires, or a broken headlight. In this case, you may have your ticket dismissed by having a law enforcement officer sign the back of the ticket, in the Certificate of Correction. Any violations of Pollution Control Devices will need to be checked and certified by a licensed professional.
Receiving a citation can be intimidating and confusing, especially if this is the first time you have been in such a situation. The good news is that you will not automatically have to appear in court – you may have the option of paying a fine without appearing in court, or a chance to fix your vehicle and rectify the error that caused you to get pulled over and issued with a citation in the first place.
Being able to read your ticket is an important part of the process – the citation will have everything that you need, and the information that is important to help you progress your case and stay on the right side of the legal system.