Low CSA scores can create problems for drivers and carriers. By understanding how these points are calculated, what counts as a good (safe) CSA score, and how to improve CSA scores, fleets can enjoy several benefits.
Everyone in the trucking industry knows how costly collisions can be.
According to a report by FleetOwner.com, fleets spent roughly $57 billion in 2017 to cover the costs of medical treatment, insurance premium increases, vehicle repairs, and property damage resulting from collisions. The figure doesn’t take into account the potential damage to a trucking company’s public image if civilians are involved.
To hold drivers and motor carriers accountable for their role in safety, the FMCSA introduced the Compliance, Safety, and Accountability program in 2010.
What is evaluated?
To identify high-risk motor carriers, the SMS, or Safety Measurement System, evaluates driver performance based on the following Behavior Analysis and Safety Improvement Categories (BASIC):
- Unsafe driving
Reckless behaviors such as speeding, failure to wear a seat belt, tailgating, and texting while driving.
- Driver fitness
Driver qualification issues such as the lack of a commercial driver’s license, existing medical conditions, or inexperience.
- Hours-of-service compliance
Potential hours-of-service violations
- Vehicle maintenance
Maintenance problems such as mechanical defects, broken vehicle brakes or lights, and improper cargo securement, among other potential issues.
- Controlled substances
Driving under the influence of illegal drugs or alcohol, including diminished cognition due to medication misuse or overdose.
- Crash indicator
History of previous state-reported crashes that contribute to the crash indicator BASIC.
- Hazardous materials compliance
The unsafe or improper handling of hazardous materials
You can view your carrier’s safety and performance data on the SMS website. Enter your registered name or U.S. Department of Transportation number to extract the information from the SMS database.
How are CSA scores calculated?
The CSA scores provided and endorsed by the FMCSA are also called BASIC percentiles.
The lower your CSA score, the better your fleet is considered in terms of safety and compliance.
Carriers are given points and ranked according to the number of violations, the severity of each incident, and the recency of the latest event.
It’s worth noting that some BASIC violations hold more weight than others. Operating a commercial vehicle while texting, for instance, will cost a driver 10 points whereas failure to conduct a pre-trip inspection would only yield four points.
Below are a handful of BASIC violation examples that can penalize drivers with the most points:
- The release of hazardous material from secure packaging
- Reckless driving
- Going 15 or more miles per hour beyond the speed limit
- Driving a commercial vehicle while physically ill or fatigued
- Driving a commercial vehicle without a commercial driver’s license
- Not having the proper commercial driver’s license endorsement
- Pressuring or requiring drivers to drive for over 11 hours
- Falsification of or inaccurate information on RODS (record of duty status)
When calculating your CSA score, points are also 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
What counts as a good CSA score?
Unfortunately, there is no definite consensus on the definition of a “good” CSA score. There’s no minimum point total that determines when the FMCSA will take action. It’s the resulting percentile ranking—in relation to other similar fleets—that matters in the end.
Carriers, however, must be aware that a CSA score of 65 and above for general BASIC violations would result in a warning letter per the Motor Carrier Early Intervention protocol.
Remember that different BASICs have different score thresholds for specific vehicle types.
Passenger vehicles, in particular, have the lowest score threshold of 50 percent for unsafe driving, HOS compliance issues, and crash indicator violations. Commercial vehicles that carry hazardous materials, on the other hand, have a score threshold of 60 percent for the same BASICs.
What happens if you have a really bad CSA score?
Fleets that are unable to improve their scores will be subject to further scrutiny. For example, the FMCSA may appoint a safety investigator to identify safety and compliance issues in your fleet if you fail to maintain a CSA score of 60 percent or lower.
Further interventions include an official Notice of Violations, which serves as a final warning before hefty fines are imposed on your fleet. If you fail to take corrective action, you will receive a follow-up Notice of Claim.
The worst intervention is the Operation Out of Service Order or OOSO. This is an official order by the FMCSA that require your fleet to cease all commercial vehicle operations.
How to work towards a good CSA score
For your fleet to keep a healthy CSA score, below are a few strategies you should consider:
- Promote better driving habits using fleet management or ELD software with performance-tracking features.
- Select your recruits carefully with data from the Pre-Employment Screening Program.
- Use an ELD solution with built-in vehicle diagnostics to avoid vehicle maintenance violations.
- Use dash cams to record videos of critical safety events and use those videos to improve driver coaching programs.
The benefits of a good CSA score
One advantage of a good CSA score is fewer instances of targeted DOT audits and inspections, which can be time-consuming and tedious. This allows fleet managers and drivers to focus on their duties with peace of mind.
Earlier, insurance companies used the CSA rankings to determine carriers’ safety performance, enabling insurers to offer better annual premiums to reliable fleets. Customers also used the CSA rankings to look for trustworthy providers, which meant more business for those who follow road safety regulations.
Unfortunately, CSA rankings are no longer public from the end of 2015. While this eliminates the above-mentioned two big benefits of a good CSA score, your safety rating can still be used as a benchmark in your driver improvement efforts.
Just like hours-of-service compliance, the CSA program shouldn’t just compel carriers to comply with the FMCSA rules. Fleets should also see it as an incentive to focus on their safety standards and help make roads safer for truckers as well as passenger vehicles.