September 18, 2018

Do CSA Scores Really Matter?

Do CSA Scores Really Matter

Spoiler alert: Yes. They do. Even though many argue that they are unreliable and unfair (more on that later), we are stuck with this system until improvements are made.

As we wait for those changes, we believe it’s important to understand the significance of CSA scores, so that you can effectively prepare and navigate this system.

But first: A quick reminder on what CSA scores are and how they are determined.

CSA is the safety compliance and enforcement program created by the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration that aims to keep drivers and carriers accountable for safety on the road.

CSA takes each carrier’s safety events (such as inspection violations and crashes) and categorizes them into BASICs (Behavioral Analysis and Safety Improvement Categories). From there, an event is given a numerical weight based on the severity of the event as well as how long ago it occurred. This data is all collected on the FMCSA’s Safety Management System (SMS) and updated monthly.

So with the boring stuff out of the way, let’s talk about the exciting aspect of CSA scores: how they actually affect carriers and drivers. (Okay, not exciting. Practical is probably a better word.)

Better scores = Better safety rankings

Why this matters for carriers:

Your CSA scores directly impact your fleet’s safety ratings. These ratings serve as an easy way for potential customers to determine whether you will be a reliable carrier. Therefore, by maintaining a good CSA score, you are improving your company’s ability to attract and maintain customers, and isn’t that the whole point of being a carrier in the first place?

It’s not just customers who are looking at these rankings. Potential hires often look to these as they decide whether they want to drive for you. Because drivers do not want to risk their own scores being negatively impacted by your company’s practices, they will opt to work for a carrier that prioritizes safety and proper maintenance. And in this the time of driver shortages, a carrier cannot afford to lose out on hires because of easily preventable bad scores.

Why this matters for drivers:

As a driver, your CSA scores can be one of the major determining factors in whether you get a job or not. Carriers understand that drivers are the most important contributing factor to their own scores, safety ratings, and their overall success. Therefore, a quality carrier is not going to risk hiring a driver who may neglect maintenance or accrue safety violations.

Good scores reduce the number of audits and inspections

Why this matters for carriers:

According to Travis Baskin, Head of Regulatory Affairs at KeepTruckin, CSA scores are used by the FMCSA to prioritize carriers with potential safety issues for interventions, including warning letters, inspections, and audits that can then lead to more formal agency action. And those formal DOT actions are no joke. They can be time-consuming, difficult to navigate and cost thousands.

Why this matters for drivers:

Just as with carriers, worse scores means more frequent inspections. These cost you valuable time and will likely result in expensive corrective actions– All of which are easily avoidable with attention paid to your CSA scores.

CSA scores affect insurance premiums

Why this matters for carriers:

Unless you’re one of those carriers that don’t really care about money, this one is pretty self-explanatory. If you have bad scores, insurance companies are going to charge you more in premiums. That’s a bad thing. Avoid that.

Why this matters for drivers:

As with carriers, higher scores mean higher premiums. More money towards insurance premiums is less money in your pockets, and nobody wants that.

Yeah yeah yeah. But are CSA scores really an accurate measure of safety?

You are probably aware of the many complaints from both drivers and carriers about CSA scores. Some of the main arguments against the current program include:

  • The scoring is unreliable and unfair for small fleets.  
  • Accidents that are not a driver’s fault are scored the same as if they were.
  • There are significant disparities between different state inspections.
  • Scores do not correlate to actual crash risks.

Even with these complaints in mind, you still have to play by the rules, though, if you want to avoid citations, audits, and increased inspections. And good news: it seems the FMCSA is testing a new scoring system this month.

But what if you already have a violation?

If you have already received violations, they will continue affecting your score for two years after the incident. Throughout the two years, though, the weight of each violation will decrease.

As Baskin explains, “Violations logged in the past 6 months are given a severity weight of 3, 7-12 months get a 2, and one year to two years get a weight of 1. That is then multiplied by the severity weight of the violation and then divided by the total number of inspections over that two year period. Then, the data is normalized for vehicle mileage, and carriers are segmented according to the types of units they have in their fleet.”

Got that?

No?

If you don’t want to have to worry about that kind of math, we don’t blame you. This is why we put together some tips for you to avoid bad scores in the first place.

How to Maintain Good CSA Scores

  • Avoid commonly overlooked pre-trip checks. Industry experts recommend looking especially closely for air leaks in brakes, broken lights, and debris in tires.
  • Hire smart. Companies who use PSP reports in their hiring process reduce their rate of out-of-service citations by 17 percent and reduce crash rates by 8 percent, according to the FMCSA.
  • Watch your brakes. Despite its importance, brake safety is a commonly overlooked aspect of pre-trip inspections and cause for many citations.
  • Challenge citations. Carriers have two years to challenge a violation that results in a diminished CSA score.
  • Keep medical cards updated. Approximately 12.5% of all violations are medical related, mostly because drivers do not carry a valid medical certificate. This is a simple citation to avoid, so don’t make this mistake.

We go more in-depth on each of these tips in 6 Simple Secrets to Improve Your CSA Score.

And that’s our overview on the significance of CSA scores. Let us know if you have any questions or comments on this important issue. You can reach out to us via compliance@keeptruckin.com.

This story was written by Katlyn Whittenburg (@katlynisit), who is a technology writer specializing in logistics and transportation. She accidentally discovered her love for logistics after working for a startup. Katlyn strives to make the industry that drives our economy as interesting to everyday people as it is to her.
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