CSA scores are critical to a carrier’s success. When managed well, a CSA score can help carriers get access to preferred loads and even reduced insurance rates. When not managed well, a carrier’s CSA score could get them hit with an out-of-service order.

But CSA scores are often misunderstood. The program is complicated. And they seem to constantly change. So we’re here to answer your burning questions:

  • What is the CSA program?
  • What are the CSA BASIC categories?
  • How are SMS percentile ranks calculated?
  • How do I check my CSA score?
  • What is a good CSA score?
  • 6 tips to improve your CSA score
  • CSA score FAQs

What is the CSA program?

The FMCSA created the Compliance, Safety, Accountability (CSA) program as a way to identify high-risk commercial motor carriers. The goals of the CSA program are to prevent accidents through proactive intervention and to hold carriers accountable for safety standards.

To do this, the FMCSA created the Safety Measurement System (SMS) which uses data from state-reported crashes, roadside inspections, and investigation results from the last two years. This data is updated once per month and is assigned to your DOT number.

According to the FMCSA’s CSA factsheet, the SMS considers:

  • The number of safety violations and inspections
  • The severity of safety violations or crashes
  • When the safety violations occurred, with recent events weighted more heavily
  • The number of trucks/buses a carrier operates and the number of vehicle miles traveled
  • Acute and Critical Violations found during investigations

The FMCSA then organizes this data into seven categories known as the Behavior Analysis and Safety Improvement Categories. These are commonly referred to as the BASICs.

What are the CSA BASIC categories?

There are seven CSA BASIC categories:

  • Unsafe Driving
    The Unsafe Driving BASIC covers the following driver violations: speeding, texting, using a hand-held-cell phone, reckless driving, improper lane changes, and inattention. Violations are used in the SMS whether the state officer issues a citation or just a verbal warning.
  • Driver Fitness
    The Driver Fitness BASIC covers driving records, including driver qualification files, commercial drivers’ licenses (CDLs), medical certificates, state driving records, annual driving record reviews, and compliant employment applications.
  • Hours-of-service Compliance
    The Hours-of-service Compliance BASIC covers compliance with the FMCSA’s Hours of Service regulations, including falsification of RODS and driving more hours than allowed.
  • Vehicle Maintenance
    The Vehicle Maintenance BASIC covers pre- and post-trip vehicle inspections, vehicle defects, and whether a vehicle was promptly repaired. Maintenance problems such as worn tires, broken vehicle brakes or lights, and improper cargo securement, among other issues are considered.
  • Controlled Substances
    The Controlled Substances BASIC covers the operation of commercial motor vehicles by drivers who are under the influence of alcohol or illegal drugs. Examples of violations include failing an alcohol test or having alcoholic beverages in the cab. It also looks at the misuse of prescription or over-the-counter medications.
  • Crash Indicator
    The Crash Indicator BASIC looks at the history of previous state-reported crashes. A crash is considered reportable if they involve a fatality or injury, or require a vehicle to be transported from the crash scene. A driver’s role in the crash is not currently a factor in whether a crash is reportable. But the FMCSA is currently researching how this may be incorporated in the future.
  • Hazardous Materials Compliance
    The Hazardous Materials Compliance BASIC looks at compliance with how Hazmat carriers must properly package, mark, label, placard, and load. It also covers regulations for tank specification testing, loading/unloading, attendance, and leakage.
  • Insurance/Other
    While not technically a BASIC, the FMCSA also uses the Insurance/Other category to prioritize carriers for intervention. Examples of violations are operating a commercial motor vehicle without the required minimum amount of coverage or failing to maintain proper documentation of crash reports.

Let’s say that the SMS has collected and categorized the most recent data. The next step is for the SMS to rank carriers by assigning them a percentile from 0–100. The higher the scores, the worse the performance. These scores are used to prioritize interventions.

How are SMS percentile ranks calculated?

Carriers are given points and ranked on the number and severity of violations and accidents for their DOT number on a scale of 0–100. The time the event occurred influences the weighting of the violation or accident. More recent incidents are weighted more heavily. Violations and crashes are also “normalized by exposure” which is a calculation the FMCSA uses to make a fair comparison between carriers with different levels of activity. Factors considered are things like the number of miles traveled per vehicle and the total number of relevant inspections that occurred.

Let’s look at an example. Carrier A has two violations in three total inspections. Carrier B has three violations in ten total inspections. In this case, Carrier A is probably going to be ranked in a higher, more dangerous percentile than Carrier B.

It’s worth noting that some BASIC violations hold more weight than others. Below are a handful of BASIC violation examples and their point values:

10-point violations

  • Operating a CMV while texting or using a hand-held mobile phone
  • Reckless driving
  • Going 15 or more miles per hour beyond the speed limit
  • Speeding in a construction/work zone
  • Driving a commercial vehicle while physically ill or fatigued
  • Driving after being declared out-of-service for HOS violation(s)
  • Driver uses or is in possession of drugs

8-point violations

  • Not having the proper commercial driver’s license endorsement
  • Unqualified/unfit driver

7-point violations

  • Speeding from 11–14 MPH over the limit
  • Failing to use a seat belt
  • Pressuring or requiring drivers to drive for over 11 hours
  • 11, 14, and 60/70 hour rule violations
  • Falsification of or inaccurate information on RODS (record of duty status)
  • Failing to provide supporting documents in the driver’s possession upon request

6-point violations

  • Inoperable tail lamp, head lamps, brake lamps, or turn signal
  • Operating CMV with lamps/reflectors obscured

5-point violations

  • Failing to note malfunction that requires use of paper log
  • Driver failed to assume or decline unassigned driving time
  • Failure to obey a traffic control device
  • Following too close
  • Improper lane change or passing
  • Using or equipping a CMV with radar
  • Commercial vehicle failing to stop or slow down approaching a railroad crossing.
  • Scheduling a route which would require the vehicle being operated above the speed limit

When calculating your CSA score, Time- and Severity-Weighted Violation points are multiplied based on how recent the violation was:

  • Violations incurred within the past six months are multiplied by three
  • Violations incurred within the past six to 12 months are multiplied by two
  • Violations incurred within the past 12 to 24 months are only counted once

You can find a full list of violations and severity weighting/point rankings on page 49 of the FMCSA’s SMS Methodology Document.

How can I check my CSA score?

The process of checking your carrier’s CSA score is pretty easy. Simply enter your registered name or Department of Transportation (DOT) number on the FMCSA’s website.

Note: To view additional data, including data not available to the public such as the Crash Indicator and Hazardous Materials (HM) Compliance BASIC’s, a carrier will need to login with their FMCSA-provided PIN. If you don’t have your PIN, you can request it here.

The Crash Indicator and Hazardous Materials (HM) Compliance BASIC’s have been hidden from public view since the FAST Act highway bill in December of 2015. This is due to concerns about whether the carriers’ safety performance was adequately portrayed.

In June, The House Appropriations Committee approved the fiscal year 2020 Department of Transportation funding bill. This bill would make the hidden CSA scores public again. As of November of 2019, this bill has not yet passed the House and Senate. So it may or may not end up happening.

What is a good CSA score?

Unfortunately, there is no official consensus on the definition of a “good” CSA score. There’s no minimum point total that determines when the FMCSA will take action. In the end, it’s the resulting percentile ranking and how that compares to other similar fleets that matters.

But, there are certain “Intervention Thresholds” the FMCSA uses to prioritize interventions. The FMCSA prioritizes based on the number of percentiles a carrier has at or above the established BASIC Intervention Thresholds.

In the chart below, you’ll see three rows grouping the different BASICS. The FMCSA’s analysis found that the Unsafe Driving, Crash Indicator, and HOS Compliance BASICs have the strongest associations to crash risk, which is why they have lower thresholds.

Additionally, Hazmat and passenger carriers have lower Intervention Thresholds as the consequences are often greater in the event of a collision.

BASICPassenger CarrierHazmatGeneral
Unsafe Driving, Crash Indicator, HOS Compliance50%60%65%
Vehicle Maintenance, Controlled Substances/Alcohol, Driver Fitness65%75%80%
HM Compliance80%80%80%

To make it extra easy to understand, the FMCSA adds a symbol to indicate if you’re in a range that might be prioritized for an intervention.

For complete intervention threshold information, see page 19 of the FMCSA’s Safety Methodology Document.

How does a CSA score affect your business?

There are a number of ways that your CSA score can positively and negatively affect your business. Here are a few of the main ones:

Investigation and intervention risk. A poor CSA score may put you at a higher risk for FMCSA intervention and investigations. In extreme cases, this can result in an out-of-service order for your business. At the very least, an investigation will be time-intensive and stressful.

Revenue. Even though some of the CSA BASIC data is private, shippers often look at the public data to help choose safe, reliable carriers. Poor CSA scores can prevent a carrier from getting the most profitable loads.

Insurance. Insurance companies use BASIC scores in their evaluation of a carrier’s risk profile. Often, higher CSA scores lead to higher premiums and deductibles.

6 tips to improve your csa score

CSA scores are clearly important. But, how do you actually improve them? Here are 6 proven ways to get started:

  1. Use PSP reports in your hiring.
    Pre-employment Screening Program reports provide information into a candidate’s driving history. By using PSP reports to make intelligent hiring decisions, you can lower your crash rate by 8% and driver out-of-service rates by 17%, according to FMCSA data.
  2. Implement dual-facing dashcam solution.
    Dashcams have a proven impact on accident reduction. In fact, they may prevent about 15% of accidents involving heavy duty trucks each year according to a recent study. How else can a dashcam help?
    • Driver’s with a violation for following too closely have a 46% higher accident risk according to recent studies. With a dashcam, you can review the video footage of hard braking events and correct any space cushion issues before a violation or accident occurs.
    • Seatbelt violations are common and add 7 points to your CSA score. With a dual-facing dashcam, you can occasionally check in on your drivers and ensure they’re using a seatbelt.
  3. Get proactive about vehicle maintenance.
    During roadside inspections, the most common violations are for lights (30%) and tires (10%). By using a pre- and post-trip inspection tool that’s mobile and customizable, you can significantly improve the effectiveness of your inspections. Additionally, vehicle diagnostics can help identify small issues so they’re fixed before becoming a violation.
  4. Challenge incorrect violations.
    You might see incorrect or incomplete violations added to your CSA score at some point. If this happens, challenge it through the DataQ process.
  5. Use a weigh station bypass solution.
    There are many benefits to a weigh station bypass solution. But these CSA score benefits are often overlooked:
    • A reduction in “accidental avoidance” with preemptive upcoming weigh station alerts.
    • Fewer weigh station pull ins means fewer inspections and potentially fewer violations.
  6. Choose the right ELD solution.
    Many of the most common, and costly, violations are Hours of Service related. But, not all ELDs are equal. An ELD that:
    • Is easy to use can help reduce the chance of driver-related errors, especially for new drivers.
    • Is reliable can help reduce the need to temporarily rely on paper logs in the event of a device malfunction, which introduces increased risk for driver error.
    • Includes document management can help simplify the storage of some supporting documents.

CSA score FAQs

Can I remove a violation from my CSA score?

Yes. A carrier can request a review of any data they feel is incomplete or incorrect through the DataQ process.

Are CSA scores public?

The Crash Indicator and Hazardous Materials (HM) Compliance BASICs are currently hidden from the public due to the FAST ACT highway bill. But, the 2020 Department of Transportation funding bill may change this. The other 5 BASICs are accessible to the public.

Do drivers have a CSA score?

No. Only carriers have a CSA score. But drivers do have a Pre-Employment Screening Program (PSP) report. It’s similar to a CSA score since it tracks violations and driving history.

Which carriers are included in the FMCSA’s CSA program?

All carriers operating interstate commerce in the United States that haul loads over 10,000 and carriers who haul Hazmat intrastate.

How long are violations/crashes on my Safety Measurement System (SMS) results?

24 months.

Does a driver’s past violations/collision history impact a carrier’s CSA score?

No. A violation or collision that occurred with another carrier will not affect your CSA score. Only violations and collisions that occurred while a driver was operating under your DOT will affect your CSA score.

How do I prepare myself for the event of an investigation?

If you’re subject to an investigation, it’s very important that you have the correct supporting documentation. Make sure you have what’s required by the FMCSRs. The specific documents required for each CSA BASIC can be found here.

Run a safer, more compliant business

The key to improving and maintaining CSA scores is running a safer, more compliant business. While there’s no magic pill for this, you can start by implementing a leading fleet management solution like Motive.

Motive can help you reduce ELD compliance violations with an easy-to-use ELD solution. We’ll help prevent accidents with our Smart Dual-Facing Dashcam. And we can even minimize vehicle-related violations with vehicle inspections and diagnostics.

Ready to take a closer look at how a fleet management solution can work for your business? We’re happy to help. Give us a call at 844-325-9230.