January 30, 2023

Why You Need to Know Your Basic CSA Scores

A Breakdown of One of the Most Important Driver Safety Scores

As an owner operator, your safety habits and accountability measures matter. Not only do they have an impact on your bottom line, they also affect the safety and wellbeing of other drivers on the road. When each member of the trucking industry takes their responsibility seriously, the roads become safer for everyone.

An important safety topic we haven’t touched on in a while is the importance of your compliance, safety, and accountability (CSA) scores. This post breaks down what they are, why they matter, and how you can change your score or keep it in a good range.

What is a CSA score?

A CSA score — also known as a Compliance, Safety, and Accountability score — is part of a program developed by the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (FMCSA) to monitor and track the safety habits of drivers on the road. Think of it like a driver reputation score. The FMCSA analyzes data pulled from roadside inspections, crash reports, and other legal records to see how a driver is performing in seven categories known as the Behavior Analysis and Safety Improvement Categories (BASICs). These category performances are then used to calculate a CSA score for the driver.

The CSA scores help other owner-operators and industry folks flag high-risk drivers and helps ensure all drivers are making an effort to put safety first while on the road.

What data makes up my CSA score?

An online system called the Safety Measurement System (SMS) is responsible for gathering data from millions of investigations, crashes, and other on-the-road events that involve owner operators. From there, it organizes the data into one of the seven BASICs categories:

1. Unsafe driving

2. Crash indicator

3. Hours of service compliance

4. Controlled Substances/Alcohol

5. Vehicle maintenance

6. Hazardous materials compliance

7. Driver fitness

The number of points the system assigns to each item it finds will vary, but a category violation could increase your score anywhere from 1-10 points higher (which you don’t want) at any given time.

There are ways to up your game in each category so that you don’t get hit with a higher CSA score. For example, you can keep your hazardous materials score lower by making sure you’re using enough ropes or straps to keep your cargo secure on a load. Or, to keep your CSA score low in the hours of service category (also called HOS), make sure to keep accurate records online of each trip’s start time and end time so you have proof you’re complying with your company’s work schedule policy.

Keeping your CSA score low

Your CSA score will land somewhere between 0 and 100. You want a low score because it identifies you as a low risk driver. Anything higher than 50 should put you on high alert. Not only will you get a warning letter, but the FMCSA (Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration) might even start an investigation, which will require hours of administrative time on your part.

No one likes warning letters, but information is power, right? Use your warning letter as a proactive way to admit there’s a problem, get serious about your safety and accountability performance, and then step it up. The last thing you want to do is stoke the ire of the FMCSA.

Who can see my CSA score?

Anyone can access your CSA score by searching for your company name, MC/MX number, or your DOT number. That means potential customers can easily find you and measure you against competitors when they’re deciding which company is more likely to complete a safe trip. Talk about wanting a good reputation, right?

And, if you’re trying to drive for another company, there’s a high likelihood that they will use the SMS system to find your CSA score during the application process. After all, it’s in their best interest to hire the safest drivers with the cleanest records. Like it or not, the CSA scores will follow you for a long time, so it’s best to make an effort to maintain good scores now. An ounce of prevention will save you pounds of reparation efforts later.

What’s the benefit of a low CSA score?

CSA scores are similar to receiving grades in school. They let people know how you’re doing, help spot trends in your overall performance, and, if you’re in the safety danger zone, help call attention to areas where you need to improve your tactics.

Not only does having a lower score mean fewer audits from DOT, it’s also a great way to land more clients. A clean safety record with low CSA scores improves your credibility and demonstrates you take care to adhere to federal safety regulations. Low CSA scores mean you’re a low-risk driver capable of getting their product safely to its final destination. This makes you the more appealing choice compared to someone with high CSA scores or a questionable driving history.

Another benefit of a low CSA score is that safe drivers usually have fewer reasons to file or submit insurance claims, which means your insurance premiums will be lower. This will save you money overtime and reduce your business expenses.

How do I find my CSA score?

A good way to keep tabs on your CSA score and see how you’re measuring up to FMCSA standards is to check out the new SMS webpage.

This online database, or portal, is where your score is tracked and posted. You can easily sign up for the online portal using your DOT number and pin on the SMS portion of the FMCSA website. The updated dashboard is more user-friendly and uses icons to quickly illustrate where you land and if your score needs attention. For example, if you see a small yellow triangle with an exclamation point in it, that means your score isn’t looking too good and you need to take some steps to improve some of your safety performance issues. This new breakdown can help you keep a visual log of your progress.

The CSA score program is truly driven by data with the intent of improving your overall safety in the industry. The FMCSA website states there are about 5 million trucks sharing the road with bus drivers and close to 250 million other drivers. Knowing your CSA score helps you hold yourself accountable and make a greater effort to keep other drivers safe on the road. Not only that, but it will also improve your bottom line by reducing how often you or your drivers are pulled aside for inspections and it will save you valuable administrative time from having to go through an investigation.

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