How’s Your CSA Score?

The Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (FMCSA) collects data on commercial motor vehicles (CMV)s operating under a US interstate Department of Transportation (DOT) number in order to arrive at all fleet or owner/operator trucks to assign each Compliance, Safety, Accountability (CSA) scores. Wow, so many acronyms in trucking but we know it simplifies the alternatives.

A company’s or owner/operator’s safety data is available online from the FMCSA’s Safety Measurement System (SMS). Data is tracked on all interstate carriers. That means all trucks and buses with a USDOT number.


The SMS data then is ranked under seven different Behavior Analysis and Safety Improvement Categories or (BASICs). These go into calculating your score:

  1. Unsafe Driving including speeding, reckless driving, unsafe lane change, inattention, and no seat belt.
  2. Crash Indicator histories of crash involvement.
  3. Hours of Service Compliance noncompliance data from logbooks and electronic logging devices (ELD)s,
  4. Vehicle Maintenance brakes, lights, defects, failure to perform required repairs.
  5. Controlled Substances/Alcohol use or possession of controlled substances or alcohol.
  6. Hazardous Materials Compliance leaking containers, improper packaging and/or placarding.
  7. Driver Fitness invalid license, medically unfit to operate a Commercial Motor Vehicle (CMV).

How the Score is Determined

The SMS assigns numeric values to the number of violations and inspections completed, the severity of safety violations or crashes, when the safety violations occurred, with recent violations given a higher score, the number of trucks/buses a carrier operates and the number of miles traveled, and acute and critical violations discovered during investigations.

Obviously, the lower your score the better for all, including the motoring public. Since much of the safety data is available online from FMCSA, your existing customers and potential new ones will have access to your data and will rank your reputation for safety and compliance accordingly.

Data is tracked and calculated on the previous 24 months so customers have an accurate recent picture of your company’s safety of operation or the lack of it. So do insurance companies when assessing premiums. The higher your score, the higher your premiums, assuming your insurer does not dump you.

When it Becomes Time to Adjust

The higher your score is the more you need to get proactive about lowering it. Start by monitoring drivers to see which are better at fuel saving practices by examining who uses less fuel than others. Coach the ones on who use more fuel to help eliminate unsafe practices.

Install forward facing and driver facing cameras to gain knowledge of who is driving well and who is engaging in unsafe practices that fall under SMS as risky behavior such as unsafe following distance, speeding, unsafe lane changes and distracted driving.

Coach them on how to improve their driving habits and impress on them the need to improve in order to reduce risky behaviors and work toward reducing the company’s CSA score. If you don’t have a driving coach, get one.

What’s on the Line

The overall health of your business is on the line. Before bringing on a new hire engage in pre-employment screening to avoid taking on risky behaviors. Margins in trucking are notoriously thin, so let drivers know that poor driving habits put the company at risk of failure. It’s that serious to have a high CSA score that equates to a bad reputation causing customers to bail and insurance companies give you a higher risk rating, or worse.

Canadian and Mexican carriers operating with a US DOT number will participate in the CSA program but will be scored on only crashes and violations that occur in the US 

Good News

The good news is that the measurement system tracks only on the previous 24 months of data so by getting proactive and adopting better safety and good driving habits you can see your score dropping on a month by month improvement. Be sure to reward your drivers and coach for a job well done.

And as your score improves be sure to update your insurance company and ask for lower premium costs. At some point they will agree with you. We hope this little primer on CSA has given you thoughts of getting and keeping your score at a low level. By doing so you’ll encounter fewer inspections and out of service orders. Safe and compliant trucking will keep you in business. Stay safe, friends.

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