With tractor trailers traveling 184 billion miles a year on US roads, fleet safety is of paramount importance.

The Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (FMCSA) has responsibility for keeping large trucks and buses plying America’s roadways as safely as possible. A major tool in that effort is the Compliance, Safety, Accountability (CSA) safety measurement system, which is designed to prevent crashes, injuries, and fatalities by holding trucking companies and drivers to specific safety standards.

What is a CSA score?

CSA is designed to improve safety on U.S. roads. For many years, the CSA was focused simply on predicting accidents, but in 2019 an overhaul of the system is placing more focus on preventing them and cultivating a culture of safety in the trucking industry.

Three components comprise the CSA:

  • the Safety Measurement System (SMS);
  • interventions; and
  • a Safety Fitness Determination (SFD) rating system.

Once a month, the SMS draws data from state reports about crashes, roadside inspections, and investigation results from the last two years. Then then system matches up each incident with a trucking company’s DOT number to create an up-to-date record of safety problems.

What is a good CSA score?

A CSA safety rating falls on a percentile scale of 0-100, with higher numbers indicating a more dangerous driving record. While 0 is obviously a perfect score, there’s no consensus on what makes a “good” CSA score. The complexity of the scoring program causes a lot of confusion about this topic.

One indicator of where you fit on the scale from “safe” to “dangerous” is FMCSA’s thresholds. Carriers with a CSA score greater than 65% are seen to be the highest risk and are subject to high-risk investigation. That threshold is even lower for hazardous materials carriers (60%) and passenger carriers (50%).

The FMCSA will closely monitor carriers that have a bad (high) CSA score and may impose requirement for corrective action. If the problem continues, the agency may bar a carrier from operations with an Out-of-Service Order (OOSO).

How CSA Scores are calculated

The CSA score card is comprised of specific data. The FMCSA’s SMS gathers data from states about a number of factors to assess road safety:

  • The number and severity of safety violations and inspections
  • The timing of safety violations, with more recent events given more weight
  • The size of an operator’s fleet and the number of vehicle miles the fleet travels
  • The presence of “Acute and Critical Violations” discovered during investigations

FMCSA organizes SMS this data into seven groupings called Behavior Analysis and Safety Improvement Categories (BASICs). These CSA BASICS are:

  • Unsafe Driving: Speeding, not wearing a seatbelt, improper lane changes, etc.
  • Crash Indicator: Frequency and severity of crashes
  • Hours-of-Service Compliance: Not adhering to drive-time mandates and/or failing to maintaining logbooks
  • Vehicle Maintenance: Improper load securement, faulty brakes or lights, defects, etc.
  • Controlled Substances/Alcohol: Driving under the influence of alcohol or illegal drugs
  • Hazardous Materials Compliance: Leaking containers, unlabeled hazardous materials, etc.
  • Driver Fitness: Driving while medically unfit or lacking a valid license

These groupings help the agency assign CSA scores by ranking carriers into percentiles, as well as to prioritize interventions. Scores are calculated from 0 to 100 on a percentile scale. The higher the percentile a CSA score falls into, the more likely the agency is to pursue an intervention.

If you feel that your CSA score is unfair, you can decide to challenge the ranking within two years through the DataQs system. A successful challenge will bring down your CSA score and may reduce the severity of the citation. Violations are removed from the record after two years.

Why CSA Scores Matter

CSA scores matter for two major reasons: One is that they help make roads safer for all drivers — truckers and motorists alike. The other is that they help carriers prove their safety record, systematically improve any problems that arise, and reap other benefits. This is why it’s vital for carrier companies to take the CSA score seriously and understand its import.

Good CSA scores will help fleets get lower insurance premiums, avoid DOT audits and roadside inspections, and promote a better business reputation better reputation. Bad CSA scores can result in fines, which will dig into a fleet’s profit margins. In these ways a CSA score can translate directly into more customers and increased profitability.

How to Check Your CSA Driver Score

CSA scores are updated every month and often change, so it’s a good idea to check your score often to ensure you know about any changes.

Many drivers have the question: How do I look up my CSA score? Carriers can log the FMCSA CSA program website to check their CSA scores. Enter your DOT number and your PIN provided by the FMCSA. You can request a PIN here.

You’ll be able to see all the BASIC information associated with your score except for your Crash Indicator and Hazardous Materials Compliance BASICs, which are hidden from public view. You can get additional safety data through the SMS with a separate login and pin.

How to Improve CSA Scores

You can improve your company’s CSA scores by focusing your training and culture on safety. In this effort, it’s essential that you know the BASICs like the back of your hand so you can be well versed in which violations will increase the score.

Here are some key areas of focus to address when working to create a better safety record within your fleet:

Hiring for safety

CSA scores are applied to an entire fleet, but each driver’s individual driving record contributes to that bigger picture. That’s why it’s essential that you focus heavily on hiring drivers that take safety and compliance very seriously.

The Pre-employment Screenings Program (PSP) is your friend in this type of vetting; the PSP driver report is like an individual CSA rating for drivers, with information about a candidate’s driving history and safety incidents. Fleet managers can access this data to use during the hiring process. Companies that use a PSP driver report during hiring end up with a crash rate 8% lower on average than those who don’t use a PSP driver report.

Training for compliance

Creating a comprehensive road safety training program for drivers is one of the most effective ways of improving a CSA report. Drivers who receive this education not only understand the reasons behind and importance of safety measures, but they also have internalized very clear guidelines about acceptable and unacceptable driving behavior.

Dashcam systems can help you extend this training by over time by allowing you to see where drivers are making mistakes and need extra instruction or a refresher course.

Maintaining the fleet

CSA scores reflect the results of roadside inspections, and many of the dings drivers get in this category reflect failures of preventative maintenance. For example, 30% of roadside violations are about lights and 5-6% of violations are about tire tread depth.

Under the DOT CSA points system, Violations are assigned a crash risk based on a 1-10 scale CSA points, with 10 representing the highest risk of crash. Violations related to lights usually are assigned 2 to 6 points, so these types of violations can quickly start damaging your CSA score.

To avoid these types of problems, institute a preventative maintenance program, including using systems that monitor vehicle diagnostics and feature automatic alerts. Doing this can be a major boost to your CSA score if your drivers usually receive many citations for simple maintenance issues.

Challenging the results

Carriers have two years to challenge citations of violations that rack up CSA points and influence their CSA score. You can either challenge the entirety of the charge or just the severity of it. Succeeding in either type of challenge will improve your CSA score.

Use the DataQs system to challenge the results of a citation, including submitting any available supporting documentation.

CSA and PSP: How They Work Together

CSA scores are assigned to carriers in association with their DOT number, not to individual drivers. A driver’s mistakes are transmitted to the carrier as part of the overall CSA score.

But the FMCSA gives drivers a kind of CSA score of their own — the PSP. A PSP record contains all the data about a driver’s crashed for the last five years and their roadside inspections results for the last three. One thing to note is that the PSP driver report cites all crashes and inspections that the driver in question was involved with in any way, even if they weren’t the one at fault.

Commercial drivers, carriers, and other industry companies can access these records as part of pre-employment screening processes. Using the PSP driver report in hiring is an effective way to bring crash rates down and to prevent drivers from being barred from service due to safety issues. Companies that use a PSP driver report in hiring have a rate of driver OOS 17% lower than companies that don’t use PSP.

PSP scores can be accessed by PSP account holders, who pay an annual subscription fee for the privilege. You can sign up for a PSP account online or mail in the motor carrier enrollment agreement. Note that anyone requesting a driver’s PSP information must have the permission of the driver in question. Drivers can also request their own PSP record from the FMCSA Motor Carrier Management Information System (MCMIS) for a small fee.

CSA Score Myths

Myth: All roadside violations will affect my CSA scores.

Fact: Your CSA score is only affected by those violations that qualified inspectors report on roadside inspection reports. If a violation you receive isn’t entered into the FMCSA’s data system via a roadside inspection form for some reason, your CSA score will escape unscathed.

 

Myth: You need to register for the CSA program and participate in government training.

Fact: Carriers and drivers don’t have to register for the program because they are automatically included in it because they are subject to FMCSA oversight. Any extra training you have to do on road safety will be mandated by your employer, not the government.

 

Myth: A CSA score details the mistakes made by specific drivers.

Fact: A CSA score rates the safety level of a carrier or fleet without disaggregating what actions specific drivers took to affect the score. A PSP score, on the other hand, details the driving history and safety incidents of an individual driver.

 

Myth: Speeding violations will always damage CSA scores.

Fact: If you’re caught speeding five miles per hour or fewer above the speed limit, your violation will not be reflected on your because speedometers are permitted to have a 5mph margin of error. Any violation that concerns more severe speeding will affect your CSA score.

Types of CSA Interventions

When a carrier’s CSA score rises to the level where the FMCSA decides to intervene, agency reps have an array of tools at their disposal. There are three categories of intervention, depending on how far along you are in the intervention process: early contact, investigation, and follow-on.

The CSA interventions process isn’t only about punishment and penalty. It is also intended to analyze why the problem is occurring, recommend ways to fix the problem, and push carriers to take corrective action. Penalties only become necessary when a carrier fails to comply with earlier recommendations.

Early Contact

The initial interventions from the FMCSA are ways of giving early warning to carriers that problems are arising that will need to be addressed.

  • Warning letters: The FMCSA informs carriers about the problems with safety performance and compliance in their fleet and describes the consequences of failing to comply with CSA basics and improve these issues.
  • Targeted roadside inspection: The FMCSA will conduct a roadside inspection at a permanent or temporary location as a result of a carrier’s specific safety problems.

Investigation

FMCSA’s Safety Investigators (SIs) are able to do three types of investigations, which can take place at a carrier’s place of business or somewhere else.

  • Offsite investigation: The SI reviews documents provided by the carrier in order to find specific safety problems. This is usually done in the SI’s own offices.
  • Onsite focused investigation: The SI comes to the carrier’s place of business to investigate particular safety performance and compliance problems. This process may include interviewing employees and inspecting vehicles.
  • Onsite comprehensive investigation: The SI comes to the carrier’s place of business to assess the entire safety operation. This process may include interviewing employees and inspecting vehicles.

Follow-On

After an investigation of some kind, the FMCSA will give the carrier and opportunity to fix the problems, and will then escalate to further action if they are not addressed.

  • Cooperative Safety Plan (CSP): The carrier voluntarily agrees to implement this plan with the help of SIs to fix any safety issues that the investigation uncovered.
  • Notice of Violation (NOV): A carrier will get this notice if its safety problems are so bad that they require a formal notice but do not yet rise to the level of civil penalties. This means that the carrier must either correct the problem and provide the FMCSA with evidence, or contest the violation.
  • Notice of Claim (NOC): A carrier will get this notice if their violations are bad enough to warrant assessment and civil penalties.
  • Operation Out of Service Order (OOSO): A carrier will be receiving this order if their violations are severe and unaddressed; the order requires them to stop all motor vehicle operations immediately.

Final Thoughts

The CSA program underwent an overhaul just a few years ago. The new CSA system is likely to stay largely stable for a while. The FCMSA was supposed to come out with a decision in late 2020 about whether to adopt a complex statistical model called Item Response Theory (IRT) as part of the CSA in order to better assess safety among motor carriers. However, with Covid throwing everything into disarray last year, there hasn’t yet been an announcement about this particular change.

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