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The Implications of a Poor CSA Score
6 mins read

The Compliance, Safety, Accountability (CSA) scoring program is intended to improve the safety of America’s roadways. After all, 5 million truck and bus drivers share the road with more than 250 million motorists.

Therefore, CSA scores are critical to a carrier’s success. A good CSA score means lower insurance premiums, fewer DOT audits and roadside inspections, and an overall better reputation with current and potential partners and customers. (Meaning: The opposite of all those are true should you have a mediocre or bad CSA score.)

WEBINAR: The Critical Connection Between Safety Ratings & Offsite Audits

And even though the decade-old Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (FMCSA) program has gone through some changes in recent years—with more potential changes in the works—CSAs are certain to remain a critical score for carriers to monitor.

CSA Scores and How They’re Calculated

CSA scores are intended to hold carriers and drivers accountable for their role in the safety of U.S. roadways. Scores are derived from data from roadside inspections, including driver and vehicle violations; crash reports from the prior two years; and investigation results.

The FMCSA’s Safety Measurement System (SMS) considers the number of safety violations and inspections, the severity of safety violations and crashes, when crashes occurred (with recent events weighed more heavily), the number of trucks a carrier operates and the amount of vehicle miles traveled, and both acute and critical violations discovered during investigations.

The agency then organizes this data into seven Behavior Analysis Safety Improvement Categories (BASICs):

  • Unsafe Driving (Speeding, reckless driving, improper lane change, inattention, or failure to use seatbelts.)
  • Crash Indicator (History of crash involvement.) (This information is not made public)
  • Hours of Service (HOS) Compliance
  • Vehicle maintenance (Failure to make required repairs.)
  • Controlled substances/alcohol (Use or possession.)
  • Hazardous materials compliance (Leaking containers, improper packaging and/or placarding.) (This information is not made public.)
  • Driver fitness (Invalid license, medically unfit to operate a CMV.)

The SMS groups carriers by BASIC with other carriers with a similar number of safety events. Carriers are then assigned a percentile from 0 to 100 to prioritize them for interventions. The higher the percentile, the worse the performance.

This information then appears in the online SMS, which is updated once a month.

Changes in the Works

As noted, some CSA data is made public, while some is not. This is one of the results of the FAST Act of 2015, which called for CSA scores to be pulled from public view following criticism that they were inaccurate and unfair. The Act also required that the FMCSA contract with the National Academies of Science (NAS) to reevaluate the program and make improvement recommendations.

Countdown to Driver File Conversion: Are Your Files Ready?

The resulting NAS report made numerous suggestions, including that the FMCSA investigate and evaluate new statistical models; explore ways to collect additional data to enhance its safety assessment methodologies; make user-friendly data available to the public; and use absolute data measures as well as relative percentiles to determine which carriers are prioritized for intervention.

The FMCSA began testing a new scoring system in late 2018, and the agency’s goal going forward is to shift its focus from predicting accidents to establishing a culture of safety and preventative measures.

By all accounts, this would not only establish a system that is much easier to understand, but that would look at new types of data, such as cargo type and driver turnover. Single BASIC scores might also go into effect; percentile ratings could go away; and factors such as varying levels of state enforcement and even regional weather conditions could be taken into account to help establish more level playing fields.

Furthermore, a fleet’s score could become more holistic—meaning that, if they have excellent marks in all but a few areas, their overall ratings would reflect that.

While we won’t know anything for sure until the FMCSA unveils its plans, it is still imperative that carriers keep close track of their CSA scores. Failing to do so could mean interventions such as warning letters, increased roadside enforcement, investigations, cooperative safety plans, and potential penalties and fines.

Quiz: Are Your Driver Files Offsite Audit Ready?

How to Maintain Your CSA Score

 Stay vigilant. Routinely check your inspections, crash report data, and CSA score on the program website, and immediately report any incorrect information. Also update your MCS-150 carrier registration information at least every two years (or whenever there is a change in your company profile).

Create a culture of safety. The FMCSA suggests reviewing your inspection and violation history for the prior two years to identify patterns, trends, and areas that need improvement—then address those as soon as possible. Continually assess your company’s safety management practices and work to incorporate safety into every aspect of your operation. Establish and enforce strong driver policies—from hiring, to qualifications and training, to communication, to monitoring and tracking.

Educate yourself and your employees. Stay apprised of regulations and industry best practices. And remember that you are held accountable for any of your driver’s violations that occur while in your service.

And reach out to Foley! We’re here to help you with safety and compliance.

The bottom line: It’s much easier to maintain a low CSA score than to make the slow, arduous, expensive recovery from a series of violations.

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