CSA Scores: What They Are and How to Lower Them

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CSA Scores: What They Are and How to Lower Them

It’s the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration’s (FMCSA) responsibility to make America’s roadways safer. One of the initiatives they’ve created to do so is the Compliance, Safety, Accountability (CSA) program, which seeks to reduce crashes, injuries, and fatalities through enforcement and accountability. 

There were 510,000 police-reported wrecks involving large trucks in 2019. Of those accidents, 114,000 (29 percent) resulted in injuries, and 4,479 (1 percent) involved fatalities. With so many vehicles on American roadways, even incremental improvements can stop countless accidents, protect thousands from injury, and save hundreds of lives.

Part of the CSA program involves scoring every carrier in seven categories relating to their drivers, vehicles, and practices. These are known as your CSA scores. CSA scores compare your compliance and safety to other carriers. The lower your CSA score, the better. Scoring too high can trigger penalties, investigations, and other consequences.

To understand CSA scores, it helps to know how the CSA program works and what you’re being scored on. After we examine the basics of CSA scores, we’ll discuss ways you can lower them.

What is the CSA program? 

The CSA program was launched in 2010 as a way to hold both drivers and motor carriers accountable for their role in making the highways safer. The program ranks motor carriers in terms of safety. 

The FMCSA updates the CSA’s Safety Measurement System (SMS) monthly with roadside inspection data (including driver and vehicle violations), crash reports from the last two years, and information from FMCSA investigations. The SMS considers the following factors:

  • Number of safety violations and inspections
  • Severity of safety violations and accidents
  • Time of safety violation (more recent events are given more weight)
  • Number of vehicles (trucks/buses) a carrier operates
  • Acute and critical violations found during investigations

A carrier receives a score in seven critical areas that the program calls the Behavior Analysis and Safety Improvement Categories (BASICs). The higher your score in one of these areas, the worse your rating. 

Understanding the BASICs

The SMS takes updated safety data and creates a CSA score based on seven groupings that evaluate your drivers, vehicles, and practices for regulatory compliance and responsible habits. The more unsafe driving violations you have compared to other carriers, and the more recently they occurred, the higher your CSA score will be in each category.

Unsafe Driving  

BASIC prioritizes interventions for repeated unsafe behaviors like:

  • Texting while driving
  • Speeding
  • Reckless driving
  • Improper lane change
  • Inattention

It’s also important to note that violations recorded on a roadside inspection contribute to a carrier’s SMS score regardless of whether or not a state officer has issued a citation. The federal regulations related to this category can be found in 49 CFR Part 392 and Part 397

Crash Indicator 

This BASIC is based on two years of state-recorded accident data. It seeks to identify any patterns in a carrier’s involvement in crashes or behaviors that contribute to accidents. Crashes are reported if they result in an injury, death, or damages exceeding a specific cost. Driver fault is not factored into whether the accident is reported. 

Some elements of the BASIC are public, but Crash Indicator data is only available to motor carriers who are logged into their own safety profile, and to safety enforcement personnel.

This is the only BASIC that does not use violations of specific Federal Motor Carrier Safety Regulations (FMSCRs).

Hours-of-Service Compliance

The DOT’s Hours-of-Service (HOS) rules exist to improve the performance of CMV drivers. These rules regulate the number of hours drivers can drive and work per day and per week. Mandatory rest breaks ensure drivers are sufficiently rested before getting behind the wheel. The regulations related to this BASIC include 49 CFR Part 392 and Part 395.

Vehicle Maintenance

It’s not only essential to have a preventive maintenance plan in place, but you need to keep all the necessary maintenance records to show that you’re up to date. This includes DVIRs, pre-trip and annual inspections, and maintenance and repair records. 

This BASIC relates to the following Federal regulations: 49 CFR Part 392, Part 393, and Part 396.

To learn more about the best digital inspection tool for staying on top of preventative maintenance, managing inspections, and easily accessing reports, visit whiparound.com/fleet-inspection-software.

Controlled Substances/Alcohol 

The FMCSA actively seeks to diminish the use of any alcohol, illegal drugs, over-the-counter medicines, and prescriptions that might impair driving. This BASIC also covers any alcoholic beverages kept in a vehicle’s cab—even if they’re unopened. 

More information about this regulation can be found in 49 CFR Part 382 and Part 392.

Hazardous Materials Compliance 

This BASIC covers the entirety of hazardous material compliance, including the packaging, marking, labeling, and loading of these materials. It also covers issues related to the loading of such materials: tank specification testing, loading/unloading, attendance, and leakage. This BASIC is not public and can only be viewed by motor carriers logged into their safety profile and safety enforcers. 

To ensure compliance with the BASIC, motor carriers should be familiar with the following:

Driver Fitness 

A motor carrier needs to have complete and up-to-date driver-qualification files. These include a valid commercial driver’s license, medical certificates, state driving records, annual reviews, and employment applications. 

More information on these requirements can be found in 49 CFR Part 383 and Part 391

What happens if your CSA score is too high?

Carriers with poor CSA scores can expect a follow up. The CSA’s intervention process evaluates why safety problems occur, encourages corrective action, and can even charge heavy fines for any carrier who fails to comply. 

The three intervention categories include the following:

Early contact: 

Warning letters: Upon notification of a driver violation, the CSA sends a warning letter to the motor carrier about their safety performance and compliance issues. The letter indicates the potential consequences of non-compliance and an inability to improve performance issues, which may include onsite or offsite investigations. 

Targeted roadside inspection: The next step is a targeted roadside inspection to ensure compliance. These inspection results can become part of a future investigation if necessary. 


There are three types of investigations safety investigators may use to diagnose safety performance problems and determine actions a carrier can take to improve their performance.

Offsite investigation: The carrier turns over copies of documents, and safety investigators review them remotely to identify safety performance and compliance issues. 

Onsite investigation: Safety inspectors spend time at the carrier’s place of business. This investigation may include reviewing documentation, interviewing employees, and performing detailed vehicle inspections. 

Onsite comprehensive investigation: This is a deeper analysis of a carrier’s entire safety operation, and may include employee interviews and vehicle inspections. 

Follow on:

This category of intervention focuses on four areas of varying severity.

Cooperative Safety Plan (CSP): This is a voluntary plan that a carrier can implement with the help of safety investigators. This plan may or may not come with a Notice of Violation. 

Notice of Violation (NOV): This is a formal notice that violations are severe enough to lead to formal action, but not civil penalties. The carrier can choose to provide evidence of corrective actions taken or contest the violations. If the carrier chooses to do neither, they can expect further intervention from the FMCSA. 

Notice of Claim (NOC): This formal notice informs the carrier that violations are severe enough to warrant assessment and civil penalties. 

Operation Out of Service Order (OOSO): This is a request for the carrier to immediately cease all motor vehicle operations. 

How CSA scores are calculated 

What’s commonly referred to as a CSA score is actually a percentile. The FMCSA categorizes fleets based on their BASIC rating and the number of safety events (crashes, traffic tickets, inspection details, etc.) in each category. They are assigned a percentile rating that ranks their performance in relation to other carriers. 

The SMS calculates the safety performance in the seven BASICs weighing infractions on severity. For instance, more recent infractions are given more weight than past ones. And these measurements help define your percentile. 

It’s helpful to understand that this rating doesn’t relate to a carrier’s industry or the kinds of products they may haul. They are grouped with other carriers with a similar number of safety events. And as the number of safety events changes throughout the year, the CSA will move carriers from one Safety Event Group to another. 

A CSA rating is based on percentiles, with lower scores being better. Any score over 50 percent needs to be seriously addressed. A score above 65 percent higher in Crash Indicator, Hours-of-Service Compliance, or Unsafe Driving triggers an FMCSA investigation. A score above 80 percent in any other BASIC sections will also result in an investigation. 

For a clearer picture of how to see and understand your CSA score, check out the following article: What is the FMCSA’s Safety Measurement System (SMS)? A Quick Guide.

Do CSA scores apply to drivers? 

CSA scores are attributed to the carrier based on their DOT number. The goal is to increase accountability by specifically holding carriers accountable for FMSCR infractions. But CSA investigations can still lead to identifying and addressing drivers with poor safety records. 

Driver infractions are also counted as part of the Pre-Employment Screening Program, which allows commercial carriers and other industry service providers to see an individual’s FMSCA driving records before making the decision to hire them. 

Does a driver’s history impact a carrier’s CSA score? 

Only the violations that a driver receives while working for a carrier apply to the carrier’s SMS results. Their driving history before (or after) being employed by a carrier has no impact on the carrier’s score. That said, firing a driver doesn’t erase the infractions made while they worked for the carrier. Infractions are included in the CSA score for 24 months—but the data is weighted by time, and the impact of an infraction on a score diminishes over those two years. 

Are CSA scores public?

While overall CSA scores are not visible to the public, most BASIC scores (excluding Crash Indicator and Hazardous Materials Compliance) can be seen by anyone with your DOT number. 

If you’re curious about what information is visible to the general public, check out the FMSCA’s Company Snapshot.

How to improve your CSA scores  

Violations are applied to CSA scores for 24 months, so short of disputing an infraction, there is no way to immediately lower your CSA score. But there are changes you can make which will have a cumulative impact on your score over time and make your company safer and more DOT compliant. 

1. Dispute and challenge violations 

If a violation is dismissed, it is erased from a carrier’s CSA score. A carrier has two years to contest a citation impacting their score. They can also challenge the severity of an infraction. So while an infraction might impact the score, you may be able to mitigate its overall effect.

2.  Hire drivers with good records

Hiring well is the best way to preemptively impact your CSA score. Conscientious drivers not only get into fewer accidents but also understand the importance of daily inspections and preventive maintenance. 

The FMCSA’s Pre-employment Screening Program empowers carriers to make wise hiring decisions based on the driving record of potential hires.

3.   Prioritize pre-trip inspections, and regular maintenance 

Every pre-trip inspection is an opportunity to address issues before they become bigger problems (which is why they’re mandatory). Along with prioritizing inspections, creating a culture that understands the value of preventive maintenance is critical. If mechanics or drivers can catch and correct a problem before a vehicle hits the highway, it will ultimately lower your CSA score.

4. Monitor FMCSA changes 

It’s a carrier’s responsibility to stay up-to-date on changes to CMV regulations. There are changes every year, and carriers are responsible for those changes, whether they’re aware of them or not. Carriers need to stay on top of those changes and communicate them to drivers.  

5. Commit to regular driver training 

The FMCSA provides free resources for carriers to stay informed and to help train drivers to work safer and smarter. You can also take advantage of the CSA driver fact sheet and a violation severity sheet. Exposure to tools like these can help drivers become more diligent and careful. 

Carriers should also consider the impact regular training has on company culture. If you want to create a culture of safety and preventative maintenance, you’ll need to train for it, which will greatly impact your CSA scores over time. 

6. Improve your operations and recordkeeping with digital tools 

Fleet maintenance and inspection platforms like Whip Around can help streamline the inspection process so drivers can do more thorough inspections in less time, communicate potential problems clearly, and get them repaired promptly. Forms are kept in the cloud and easily accessible for every asset, making it easier to demonstrate compliance with safety investigators. 

Fleet managers receive instant updates for any faults and can immediately create a work order to remedy the problem. Once a repair is finished, mechanics can sign off with an e-signature so the records are instantly updated and compliant. 

And Whip Around even integrates with other tools to make the process even more efficient. Check out this free webinar on Improving Your Safety Scores with Whip Around and Motive.

Lower your CSA score with Whip Around

Whip Around simplifies the compliance and preventive maintenance process, helping you lower your CSA scores (and keep them low). Improve inspections, record keeping, maintenance, and more—all while saving your fleet time and reducing headaches.

Book a demo today or contact us for more information. 

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