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CSA Scores Explained: How to Understand and Improve Your Safety Record

December 20, 2018

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Preventing crashes and fatalities related to large vehicles such as trucks and buses is at the heart of the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration’s mission. With the creation of its CSA (Compliance, Safety, Accountability) program, the FMCSA rolled out a way to identify carriers that present the greatest safety risks and help these carriers take steps to correct their actions.

The program uses a points-based system to create CSA scores for every motor carrier, even owner-operators. The scores help make both drivers and motor carriers more accountable for safety, and spell out what actions should be taken for carriers to improve.

“Depending on what is found during a roadside inspection, violations have a point value ranging from one to 10,” says Eddie Prather, who conducts DOT Compliance Training for Smith System. “At some point, if that number gets too high, the DOT [U.S. Department of Transportation] will do an intervention.”

That intervention typically comes first in the form of a letter, but if multiple violations have occurred, it could prompt an in-person visit and compliance review.

What Do CSA Scores Mean?

Among the things factored into the scores are the number of safety violations, how severe those violations were, the date of the violations, the number of trucks or buses a carrier operates and the number of vehicle miles traveled.

That information is broken down into seven different categories called Behavior Analysis and Safety Improvement Categories, or BASICs. These categories are:

  • Unsafe driving. Incidents of speeding, reckless driving, improper lane change, inattention and not wearing a seatbelt.
  • Crash indicator. History of crash involvement.
  • Hours of Service (HOS) compliance. Incidents of HOS noncompliance regulations, including logbook records.
  • Vehicle maintenance: Includes brakes, lights, defects and failure to make required repairs.
  • Controlled substances and alcohol. Use or possession of controlled substances and alcohol.
  • Hazardous materials compliance. Includes leaking containers and improper packaging and/or placarding.
  • Driver fitness. Includes invalid licenses or being medically unfit to operate a commercial motor vehicle.

To collect this information, the FMCSA uses a tool called the Safety Measurement System (SMS) that identifies carriers with safety violations. While the SMS data can be found online, crash histories and hazardous materials compliance issues are not made available to the public. This is because the general public would not be able to see them in the context of all safety data.

How CSA Scoring Works

Every violation adds points, depending on how severe the violation is, but there’s no minimum point total to watch for that will determine if the FMCSA is going to take action.

Each fleet is compared with other fleets that have a similar number of crashes, inspections and violations. Fleets are given a BASIC percentile rating that goes from 0 to 100, and their ranking will determine if their fleet is not meeting safety performance standards.

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Several factors can affect each score, and how recently the violations occurred can multiply the points by up to three times. Points from a violation remain on a fleet’s safety record for two years.

How to Check Your CSA Score

Checking your CSA score lets you know where you stand and gives you an idea of what areas need improvement. You can check your score by visiting the FMCSA site and entering your DOT number and PIN on the SMS login page.

If you don’t have a PIN, you can request one from the U.S. Department of Transportation and receive it within four to seven days.

CSA and PSP: How They Work Together

Because a high CSA score depends on good drivers, it’s important to hire drivers with excellent safety records. Just as the FMCSA compiles CSA scores on companies, it maintains records on drivers through its Pre-Employment Screening Program, or PSP.

A PSP record includes the five-year crash and three-year roadside inspection history of a driver. Carriers and companies that are conducting pre-employment screening for commercial drivers can access these records at any time.

According to the DOT, using PSP to screen new hires has helped companies lower their crash rate by 8% and decrease their driver-out-of-service rates by 17% on average.

“It’s not mandatory and it’s not free, but I’m a big believer in it,” Prather says. “You want to know what their driving history is. If they have a bad history, you want to pass on [them].”

Why CSA Scores Are So Important

Low CSA scores come with many downsides. For one thing, if your scores aren’t up to standards, the FMCSA is going to keep a much closer eye on your operations, and this could lead to corrective action. In extreme cases, it could even result in an Out-of-Service Order that keeps your company from operating.

Just as there are downsides to low scores, there are certain benefits to high scores. Customers who follow rankings will be more likely to want to do business with you, and you’ll have fewer DOT audits and roadside inspections. Recruiting top-quality drivers to join your ranks is easier when you have a great reputation. You also can enjoy lower insurance premiums based on your record.

Of course, most significantly, a good CSA score indicates that your company is operating safely and that drivers are following the rules. Every driver contributes to a culture of safety — and when everyone on the team works together to improve and maintain high CSA scores, the entire company wins.

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