If you operate a commercial motor vehicle (CMV) in the United States, then you've likely heard about CSA scores. Compliance, Safety, Accountability (CSA) is a federal program that assesses the safety and compliance of motor carriers and commercial drivers.
The CSA program uses information from inspections, crash reports, and other sources to calculate scores for carriers and drivers. These scores are used to prioritize enforcement and identify high-risk carriers and drivers.
So, how are CSA scores calculated, and how do they affect your fleet? Most importantly, how can you improve these scores?
In this article, we’ll explain how CSA scores work and why maintaining a good score is important for your fleet. We’ll also look at how you can use a telematics solution like CalAmp’s to improve your CSA rating.
Understanding CSA Scores
CSA scores may seem like just another compliance matter, but they can affect the success of your fleet. You only hurt your bottom line If you don’t take these scores seriously.
Let’s look at how CSA scores are calculated and how to check them.
What is the Compliance, Safety, Accountability (CSA) program?
The Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (FMCSA) established the CSA program in 2010 to improve the safety of commercial motor vehicles (CMVs). The program is based on the premise that most crashes involving CMVs are caused by driver behavior or vehicle maintenance issues that could have been prevented.
Data from the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) shows that large trucks accounted for just 5% of all vehicles registered in 2021 yet accounted for 9% of all fatal crashes.
The CSA program is a key part of the FMCSA's efforts to reduce crashes, injuries, and fatalities related to commercial vehicles. By identifying carriers and drivers who pose a higher safety risk, the program helps the FMCSA prioritize its enforcement and compliance efforts.
CSA scores operate on a scale from low to high.
The lower the score, the better. However, if your score exceeds thresholds in certain safety categories (more on that shortly), the FMCSA can issue an intervention and conduct an investigation.
How are CSA scores calculated?
CSA scores are calculated using data from multiple sources, including roadside inspections, crash reports, and investigation results.
The data is stored in FMCSA’s Safety Measurement System (SMS), an online tool that assesses a carrier’s performance based on available data.
The data is then used to assign scores in seven Behavior Analysis and Safety Improvement Categories, also known as BASICs:
- Unsafe driving: Engaging in behaviors that put other drivers at risk. Examples include speeding, texting, and changing lanes in an unsafe manner.
- Crash indicator: Frequency and severity of collisions. It uses state-reported data from the previous two years to calculate percentiles.
- HOS compliance: Hours Of Service (HOS) regulation that stipulates the maximum amount of time drivers are allowed to operate a CMV. Carriers must maintain proper records for at least six months.
- Vehicle maintenance: Ensuring your vehicles are safe and roadworthy. Faulty brakes or improper load securement could increase your CSA score.
- Controlled substances/alcohol: Refers to instances of drivers operating a CMV while under the influence.
- Hazardous materials compliance: Failing to properly handle hazardous materials. Examples include not labeling materials or having leaky containers.
- Driver fitness: Ensuring that your drivers have a valid commercial driver’s license (CDL) and that you maintain driver qualification and state driving records.
Each BASIC category has a different weight based on the relative importance of that category to overall safety. For example, speeding in a construction zone carries a 10-point violation, while improper lane changes are a 5-point violation. The scores are then ranked against other carriers or drivers in that same category, giving a percentile rank that reflects the relative risk of that carrier or driver.
It's important to note that CSA points aren’t a measure of compliance with federal regulations. Instead, they’re a tool that the FMCSA uses to identify carriers and drivers who may need additional oversight or intervention.
Key components of CSA scores
There are several factors that affect CSA scores.
Here’s a closer look at each component:
- Inspections: Law enforcement officials can conduct roadside inspections at any time without warning. During an inspection, the officer will check the driver's credentials, the vehicle's condition, and the cargo they’re transporting. Any violations will be recorded to calculate the carrier's CSA score.
- Crashes: Crashes involving a CMV are also considered in CSA scores. This includes all crashes, regardless of fault. However, the FMCSA recognizes that not all crashes are preventable and has developed a Crash Indicator BASIC that considers this.
- Investigations: FMCSA can investigate carriers or drivers based on complaints, referrals, or other factors. Investigations may result in fines, penalties, or other enforcement actions, impacting a carrier's CSA score.
- Violation severity: The severity of a violation can impact the CSA score. More serious violations, such as those related to hazardous materials or driver fitness, are weighted more heavily. For example, a violation related to drug or alcohol use would have a greater impact on a carrier's CSA score than a minor paperwork violation.
In addition to these key components, FMCSA also considers the size of the carrier and the number of inspections and violations recorded over a certain period. This helps to ensure that smaller carriers are not unfairly penalized for having a smaller sample size of data.
Overall, CSA scores are an important tool for improving the safety of commercial motor vehicles. By identifying carriers and drivers who pose a higher safety risk, FMCSA can take targeted enforcement and compliance actions to prevent crashes and save lives.
How to check your CSA score
To check your CSA scores, visit the USDOT site and log in to the SMS system using your USDOT number and PIN. If you don’t have this information, you can use the portal to request it.
Once you log in, you can choose any BASIC category and see a graph of your carrier’s performance over time.
Note that your CTA rating is weighted against other carriers for that particular category.
The importance of CSA Scores for your fleet
Commercial motor vehicle carriers have a responsibility to ensure the safety of everyone on the road. Carriers with poor CSA scores may face serious consequences that can negatively impact their business.
Here’s why managing your CSA score needs to be a top priority.
Ensuring safety and compliance
One of the primary reasons to pay attention to your CSA score is to ensure the safety and compliance of your fleet. By understanding whether your scores are high or low, you can focus on improving areas that may be putting your drivers and other motorists at risk.
For example, if your CSA score for unsafe driving is high, it may indicate that your drivers are frequently exceeding the speed limit or engaging in other dangerous behaviors on the road. Similarly, if your CSA score for vehicle maintenance is low, it may indicate that your fleet is not being properly maintained, which could lead to breakdowns or other issues on the road.
One way to improve your maintenance practices is to opt for a predictive maintenance solution, which helps you stay on top of service schedules. With the CalAmp Application, you can automate maintenance schedules based on vehicle conditions, mileage, and engine hours. Furthermore, with CalAmp Predictive Maintenance powered by Noregon, fleets can predict engine faults before they escalate, preventing breakdowns, reducing maintenance costs, and maximizing vehicle uptime.
Taking a proactive approach to maintenance can keep your fleet roadworthy and reduce the risk of an intervention from the FMCSA.
Reducing liability and insurance costs
Carriers with poor CSA points are more likely to face higher insurance premiums. This is because insurance companies view carriers with poor scores as higher risk and more likely to generate liability claims.
Higher insurance premiums can cut into your profits and make it difficult to compete. Managing your CSA scores can help mitigate unsafe driving and other underlying factors that may lead to liability claims, saving your company money in the long run.
Attracting and retaining customers
In a highly competitive industry, having poor CSA scores can make it difficult to secure contracts and customers. Shippers and brokers may be hesitant to work with carriers that have a history of safety or compliance issues. Additionally, carriers with poor scores may be excluded from certain types of freight, which can limit your revenue potential.
Having strong CSA scores can help you stand out in a crowded marketplace. You can differentiate your carrier and bring in more business by highlighting your safety and compliance record.
Reducing the risk of audits and investigations
Carriers with poor CSA scores are more likely to face audits and investigations from the FMCSA. These actions can be time-consuming and costly and may result in huge penalties or even revocation of your operating authority.
Additionally, carriers with poor scores may be subject to more frequent inspections and roadside checks, which can disrupt your operations and lead to further delays.
What’s a good CSA score?
There’s no official consensus on what constitutes a “good” CSA score. However, there are intervention thresholds that will cause FMCSA to take action if you exceed them.
For example, if you’re a general carrier that doesn’t carry passengers or hazardous materials (HM), the FMCSA will intervene if your CSA rating in the Unsafe Driving, Crash Indicator, and HOS Compliance categories exceeds 65%.
Here are the intervention thresholds for different categories for three types of carriers:
If your carrier approaches these thresholds, the FMCSA may intervene and send a warning letter to bring attention to certain safety and compliance issues. Failure to improve your score will prompt an investigation, so it’s important to stay well below these thresholds.
How to Improve Your CSA Scores
It’s best to take a proactive approach here, meaning you should take steps to prevent incidents before they can impact your CSA score.
Here are a few ways you can improve your CSA score.
1. Pre-screen drivers before you hire them
Given the current driver shortage, it may be tempting to skip background checks and jump straight into onboarding. However, not vetting potential drivers can cause more damage to your carrier in the long run. The good news is that pre-screening drivers isn’t a costly or lengthy process.
The FMCSA’s Pre-Employment Screening Program (PSP) has helped carriers lower their crash rates by 8% — a BASIC category with high point violations. PSP allows you to request a driver’s five-year crash and three-year roadside inspection history. It includes information like HOS violations, DOT-recordable crashes, and moving violations.
There’s a $10 fee for each report (plus an annual fee for the service), but it’s a small price to pay if it means putting more qualified drivers in your trucks.
2. Conduct regular safety audits
Conducting regular safety audits can help you identify potential issues so you can take corrective action before they escalate.
When conducting safety audits, it's important to involve all members of your team, including drivers and maintenance staff. This ensures that everyone is aware of potential hazards and can work together to address them.
It’s also important to review your fleet safety program. Is it up-to-date, and does it comply with current regulations? Are your drivers following all safety procedures?
By reviewing and updating your policies, you can help ensure that your team is prepared to maintain safety on the road.
3. Implement driver training programs
Driver training programs can help improve fleet safety and reduce violations. But it’s important to tailor them to the specific needs of your team.
For example, if you have a high rate of HOS violations, you may want to focus your training on that area. You’ll also want to provide ongoing support rather than just a one-time training session. This can help ensure that your drivers continue to follow safety regulations.
Implementing a driver training program isn’t easy. But with a telematics solution like CalAmp, you can implement a driver scorecard to track violations and keep your drivers accountable.
By detecting behaviors like harsh braking, you can tailor training programs that are specific to each driver and reduce violations that may affect CSA scores.
4. Maintain accurate records and documentation
Accurate records and documentation are crucial for maintaining compliance and improving CSA scores. Make sure that all required paperwork is up-to-date and accessible, and take steps to resolve any documentation issues right away.
Ensure HOS compliance by using electronic logging devices (ELDs). ELDs can help automate the process of tracking hours of service and Records of Duty Status (RODS). They can also help you identify potential compliance issues in real time, allowing you to take corrective action before they become a problem.
5. Utilize technology to improve performance and streamline maintenance
Technology, such as telematics systems, can prove valuable for improving CSA scores. These solutions allow you to monitor driver behavior across your fleet. For example, with the CalAmp Application, you can receive alerts for speeding, hard cornering, and harsh braking.
With this data, you can provide at-risk drivers with targeted training to improve their driving practices and reduce the number of violations.
Technology can also help you streamline maintenance. It can even help you identify issues before they cause a breakdown. CalAmp’s fleet maintenance solution features predictive fault technology that predicts the probability of issues turning into more serious issues.
Maintenance teams can prioritize issues and proactively plan repairs before they even have a chance to lead to maintenance violations. These are just a few ways you can use technology to improve your CSA rating.
Improve your CSA score with CalAmp
The FMCSA assigns CSA points to carriers based on categories that cover violations like unsafe driving and HOS compliance. Poor CSA scores can not only result in interventions, but they can also affect your carrier’s reputation and lead to higher insurance premiums.
Ways to improve your CSA score include pre-screening potential drivers, conducting regular safety audits, and implementing safety programs. Another is to use telematics solutions, as you can use them to monitor driver behavior, streamline maintenance, and more.
Request a demo to learn how the CalAmp Application can help improve your CSA score.