A traffic citation, or ticket, is a summons issued by a law enforcement officer to a person accused of committing a traffic offense. A citation is an order to appear before a court to pay an associated fine or contest the charge.
The principle purpose of traffic laws is to deter unsafe driving and to reform bad drivers. Traffic citations are the primary means of enforcing traffic laws.
A traffic citation is a legal notice to the violator that they have been accused of violating a traffic law. It serves as a court summons and as the information on which traffic court prosecutors may file a charge.
Traffic citations are typically issued for violations such as speeding, disregarding traffic control devices, failure to use turn signals, failure to yield right-of-way, improper turns, equipment violations and parking violations. Violations involving acts committed during actual vehicle movement are termed moving violations.
In most jurisdictions, traffic citations are considered “strict-liability” offenses, meaning that no proof of criminal intent is required for a conviction. The only standard is that a person committed a prohibited act while operating a motor vehicle.
Traffic violators are required to sign traffic citations at the time they are issued. Signing a citation merely acknowledges receipt and the duty to appear in court and does not serve as an admission of guilt or agreement with the charge.
Convictions for traffic violations can have a negative effect on driving privileges and often result in increased automobile insurance rates. Failure to pay traffic fines or appear in court in response to a traffic citation can result in the issuance of an arrest warrant.