Traffic tickets vs warnings are easily mixed up but there are some key differences. Both traffic tickets and warnings claim that the driver violated a traffic law. The difference between them is traffic tickets can punish the driver while traffic warnings cannot.

What Are Traffic Warnings

Traffic warnings are a formal way for an officer to tell a driver they broke the law. Traffic warnings are verbal or written. A verbal warning is simply a conversation with the officer. A driver can expect that no record of this conversation will exist. A written warning by contrast looks like a traffic ticket. At the top of the warning, it will usually say the word warning rather than citation, complaint, ticket, or violation. You can receive a warning for violations witnessed by a cop or by a camera system. Speeding camera systems can only issue warnings if you are speeding less than 6 mph over the limit.

Traffic Warning with the police department, Illinois State Police, and the words Written Warning underneath it.  It alleges a violation of following too closely.
Traffic Warning Sample

Can a Warning Hurt My Record?

Although it looks like a ticket, a written warning is not able to hurt almost all drivers. Warnings are used internally in police departments but warnings are not reported to the DMV also known as the Secretary of State in Illinois. The police department may keep an internal record of written warnings for future reference however. If you are stopped by the same police department, they may use this record to suggest writing a ticket instead of giving a warning. Aside from this, most drivers have nothing to fear from warnings issued.

Commercial License Holders or CDL Drivers can be hurt by warnings. For CDL drivers, warnings may have an impact on their PSP Records (Pre-employment screening) used by some employers. If you received a warning for a federal violation in an inspection report conducted by a state trooper, this might affect these records. It may also affect your company’s DOT number. Contacting an attorney who can fight these on a system called DataQ is recommended. The Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (FMCSA) has a helpful Frequently Asked Questions (FAQ) section for this.

What is a Traffic Ticket?

Traffic tickets as opposed to traffic warnings seek to punish the driver. They can be called traffic tickets, traffic violation, or traffic citations. These terms all mean the same thing. Each violation of traffic law can be assigned a ticket. Drivers can pay the ticket (in Illinois, this is usually $164 or more) or they can attend court. In some situations, court appearance is required and simply paying the ticket is impossible. If your paper the officer gave you has a fine, it is almost certainly a ticket. At the bottom (or bottom right for cook county tickets), it will say whether court appearance is required. You may see a massive fine between $1,000 and $2,500 though this doesn’t mean you owe this but it often means court appearance is required. If you fail to come to court, they may give you a fine up to this amount.

Sample traffic ticket for cell phone use issued by the Illinois State Police.  It features instructions on the right side for how a driver can respond to the ticket.  It is taller than it is wide.  This is common for all tickets except some issued in Cook County, Illinois where tickets are usually wider than they are taller.
Sample Traffic Ticket for Cell Phone Use

How Should I Handle My Traffic Ticket?

In general, this depends 1). on your record, 2). how serious the violation is, and 3) whether you have a special license situation. If the answer is “YES” to any of the following, you may want to consider hiring an attorney. If the answer is “NO” to all of these, you may be able to handle the ticket without too much trouble. A free consultation, even if you don’t hire an attorney, may still be helpful to prepare you for court.

1). What does your record look?

  • Do you have a bad driving history with numerous or very serious violations?
  • Have you had tickets in the past two years?
  • Have you been suspended before?
  • Are you at risk of suspension/revocation of your license?
  • Are you under 18 years of age?

2). How serious is the violation?

  • Is court appearance is required (insurance tickets where you have insurance is the exception. Call us and we can tell you how to handle that yourself)?
  • Is it speeding more than 25 MPH over the limit or in a school/construction zone?
  • Is it a criminal offense (often called a misdemeanor Class A, B, or C)

3). Whether you have a special license situation

  • Do you have an out of state license?
  • Do you have a CDL, CLP, or have ever planned to obtain one?
  • Does your job involve delivery driving (UPS, USPS, FedEx, Amazon Flex, Instacart, etc.)?
  • Are you a livery driver (Uber/Lyft/Rideshare, Taxi, Limousine, Bus, Pilot, Train Operator etc.)?
  • Finally, does your employer monitor your driving record?

If any of these apply, paying the citation, even if you receive court supervision, may not be enough to keep your record clean. If none of them apply, court supervision is often a good remedy and can keep the ticket off your record. We are always happy to help answer your questions if you would like to consult us for a free consultation.