What is the FMCSA’s Safety Measurement System (SMS)? A Quick Guide

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What is the FMCSA’s Safety Measurement System (SMS)? A Quick Guide

According to the FMCSA, the Safety Measurement System (SMS) is the FMCSA’s workload prioritization tool that is used to identify carriers with potential safety problems for interventions. This is part of the agency’s safety compliance and enforcement initiative, what they call their Compliance Safety, and Accountability (CSA) program.

With so much riding on having good standing with this DOT agency, monitoring your performance by logging into this system periodically is critically important.

The SMS is a Component of the FCMSA’s CSA Program

The CSA Program is the FMCSA’s general initiative to safety and is comprised of a couple of components:

  • The system: The Safety Measurement System (SMS) that houses safety-related data for carriers
  • The process: Interventions performed by an investigator

*Note: The third component, the Safety Fitness Determination (SFD) rule (referred to as ‘the rule’) was scrapped by the FMCSA and originally intended to help determine safe carriers. This rating system would feed data from roadside inspections and investigations into an algorithm to assign monthly scores to carriers based on individual performance instead of in relation to similar carriers, as the SMS does.

As you can read from the FMCSA’s SMS page here, the current Safety Measurement System is updated once a month, and uses data from roadside inspections, crash reports, as well as data from prior investigations to score carriers in relation to their peers.

To learn more, check out this Whip Around video as part of our In the Know Series, that breaks down the SMS system in under 10 minutes:


In the remainder of this post, we’ll dive into what data is available in the SMS, and how scores are generated for all motor carriers with a DOT #.

How Data in the Safety Measurement System is Organized

All of this SMS data is organized into 7 categories that have an impact of safety called BASICs (Behavior Analysis and Safety Improvement Categories). These include:

  • Unsafe Driving
  • Crash Indicator
  • Hours-of-Service Compliance
  • Vehicle Maintenance
  • Controlled Substances/Alcohol
  • Hazardous Materials Compliance (HM)
  • Driver Fitness

Motor carriers are grouped with similar carriers for each BASIC based on a similar number of safety events in each particular category, and are assigned a percentile score that ranks their performance in relation to others.

Monitor Your Performance by Logging Into the SMS Portal

As with any system that houses data, any motor carrier with a DOT # has the ability to log into what’s called the SMS portal at any time to view violations and their current standing.

What Carrier Measures are in the SMS

With your login credentials, you will be able to view a variety of different metrics corresponding to each BASIC. In the SMS, these are called Carrier Measures.

In this portal, carriers are able to view a trendline of each Carrier Measure over time for each BASIC, and view a complete breakdown of inspection results by vehicle, used to determine this score.

The FMCSA’s SMS Methodology

The ‘SMS methodology’ refers to the process behind generating these figures, which inputs data each carrier has on file (like roadside inspections data for all vehicles) into various equations in order to determine the prioritization status for interventions. This methodology is used to generate scores that assess the safety of carriers across the 7 BASICs.

With each BASIC category part of the SMS, a points score is calculated based on this methodology, with scores closer to zero indicating the best performance.

The chart below is an example of what’s called a ‘Carrier Measure’ in the category of Unsafe Driving. These different Carrier Measures are calculated using an equation that uses a combination of metrics like Severity Weight (SW), Time Weight (TiW), and Total Weight (TotW).

You can view the complete SMS methodology to better understand how these numbers are generated (and to help explain these different equations) using this SMS Methodology document made available by the FMCSA.

Viewing ‘CSA Scores’ in the SMS

Outside of these Carrier Measures, for each BASIC, carriers will be assigned a single percentile score which many people refer to as CSA scores. Keep in mind, that these scores are represented as percentages and a percentile ranking will be available to view for each of the 7 BASICs once logged into the portal.

So, while a carrier doesn’t have a single ‘CSA score’, these percentile rankings are good indicators for carriers looking to understand what categories may need attention.

Intervention Thresholds

Once you have your percentile score in front of you for each of the 7 BASICs, you can then compare these rankings to what the FMCSA has set an ‘intervention threshold’.

By comparing your organization’s scores to these thresholds, you can then determine the areas that the FMCSA may be likely to be monitoring or likely to investigate if any of these scores are nearing or exceeding the threshold.

As indicated in the chart below, the intervention threshold for carriers transporting passengers or hazardous materials carriers is lower than the general threshold for all other carriers, due to the fact that the consequences resulting from these types of crashes are typically much more severe.


To learn more about the Safety Measurement System and how to better prepare for a potential compliance investigation  (DOT audit), check out our webinar All About DOT Audits: An Evolving FMCSA Enforcement Tool.

Whip Around helps to keep fleet managers, owners, and even mechanics in the know at all times, by allowing drivers to collect inspections and vehicle maintenance data with an easy-to-use mobile app. This data can then be easily viewed and accessed in the Whip Around platform to keep teams aligned.

Properly collecting and making use of vehicle-related data plays a critical role in context to the Vehicle Maintenance BASIC, one of the most important categories when it comes to avoiding an audit.

By simplifying the inspection process for drivers with our mobile app, managers can take the stress out of compliance and manage their entire fleet with ease.

To learn more, contact us today to set up your free demo of the app and platform.

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