We are independent & ad-supported. We may earn a commission for purchases made through our links.
Advertiser Disclosure
Our website is an independent, advertising-supported platform. We provide our content free of charge to our readers, and to keep it that way, we rely on revenue generated through advertisements and affiliate partnerships. This means that when you click on certain links on our site and make a purchase, we may earn a commission. Learn more.
How We Make Money
We sustain our operations through affiliate commissions and advertising. If you click on an affiliate link and make a purchase, we may receive a commission from the merchant at no additional cost to you. We also display advertisements on our website, which help generate revenue to support our work and keep our content free for readers. Our editorial team operates independently of our advertising and affiliate partnerships to ensure that our content remains unbiased and focused on providing you with the best information and recommendations based on thorough research and honest evaluations. To remain transparent, we’ve provided a list of our current affiliate partners here.

Our Promise to you

Founded in 2002, our company has been a trusted resource for readers seeking informative and engaging content. Our dedication to quality remains unwavering—and will never change. We follow a strict editorial policy, ensuring that our content is authored by highly qualified professionals and edited by subject matter experts. This guarantees that everything we publish is objective, accurate, and trustworthy.

Over the years, we've refined our approach to cover a wide range of topics, providing readers with reliable and practical advice to enhance their knowledge and skills. That's why millions of readers turn to us each year. Join us in celebrating the joy of learning, guided by standards you can trust.

What is a Traffic Summons?

By C. Mitchell
Updated: May 16, 2024

Traffic laws are a nearly universal means of enforcing safety on roadways and among motorists. Breaking these laws usually results in a penalty. Penalties are typically assessed based on circumstantial details, and can run the gamut from a nominal fine to a court summons and criminal charges. Some jurisdictions will issue tickets for all offenses, the function of which is to assign blame and set a contestable penalty. Others will instead issue traffic summons for offenses, which compel recipients to appear in court to have guilt or innocence determined. Still others use both tickets and summons, depending on the offense.

Citations are given out by police on an almost constant basis in most places for offenses including speeding, illegal or reckless driving maneuvers, and driving under the influence of alcohol or drugs. Unless the officer elects to let the driver off with a warning, he usually writes a citation, or ticket, explaining the offense. Sometimes, these tickets are presented as statements of wrongdoing, which presume guilt and list a fixed penalty. In other places or under other circumstances, tickets can be written in the form of a summons.

A traffic summons, sometimes called a speeding summons if speeding was at issue, identifies the alleged offense, but requires a court appearance to adjudicate the driver’s guilt and ascertain an appropriate penalty. Most of the time, only moving violations are eligible for traffic summons. Parking infractions, hardware malfunctions like burned-out headlights, and any other traffic violation that does not involve actual driving usually only warrants a ticket, not a court date.

Tickets for moving violations that presume wrongdoing can almost always be challenged in court. The difference with a traffic summons is that a court appearance is required. Usually, the recipient of a straight ticket can simply elect to accept the accusation, pay the fine, and move on. The recipient of a summons does not have that option.

Requiring a court appearance necessarily requires more community resources than issuing straight tickets. As such, traffic summons are usually reserved for major traffic offenses. Offenses that could lead to criminal charges or long-term license revocation, such as driving under the influence, almost always require traffic summons because of the severity of the potential outcomes. Most justice systems require more than a single police officer’s judgment to limit or remove drivers’ rights.

There are different types of summons in different places. New York City traffic laws, for instance, mandate the issuance of traffic summons known as a “pink summons” for traffic offenses that could lead to criminal charges. Drivers receive pink summons at the moment of their apprehension, and the date and time of required court appearance is usually pre-printed on the ticket. As with all traffic summons, drivers are required to respond to a pink summons. Ignoring a summons can lead to steep penalties, including arrest and imprisonment in some cases.

MyLawQuestions is dedicated to providing accurate and trustworthy information. We carefully select reputable sources and employ a rigorous fact-checking process to maintain the highest standards. To learn more about our commitment to accuracy, read our editorial process.
Discussion Comments
By Glasis — On Feb 26, 2014

In most jurisdictions, driving under the influence requires immediate arrest, not simply issuance of a summons to appear in court.

If the driver's blood alcohol level is above the legal limit or refuses to be tested for intoxication, that person is considered an imminent danger to other motorists and pedestrians. As a result, they cannot be allowed to leave the scene behind the wheel.

Most of the time, drunk driving offenders will be taken to a holding cell at the police station and will stay there for several hours to get sober.

Once the suspect is sobered up, he or she will receive a summons to appear in court.

MyLawQuestions, in your inbox

Our latest articles, guides, and more, delivered daily.

MyLawQuestions, in your inbox

Our latest articles, guides, and more, delivered daily.