How to Understand and Improve Your CSA Score

How to Understand and Improve Your CSA Score

Reading Time: 8 minutes(Last Updated On: February 26, 2020)


Do motor vehicle regulations drive you up the wall?


The fact is, the rules of the road are there to protect us all – and thank goodness they exist! There are enough challenges in the trucking industry, it’s best to avoid throwing safety violations into the mix.


That said, there are different ways that vehicular laws are enforced, including the CSA score.


Are you unfamiliar with the CSA score? Then you’ve made the right pit-stop!


Learn what the CSA score is, how to check it, why it’s important for your business, and much, much more – below.


What is a CSA score?


A CSA score is a percentile rank used by the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Association (FMCSA) to help identify drivers and motor carrier businesses that pose a high risk, and who may require intervention.


The main goal of the FMCSA is to “prevent commercial motor vehicle-related fatalities and injuries.” Clearly, that’s a big benefit for everybody who travels by motor vehicle – whether they’re a carrier or not. In its mission to ensure motor carrier safety, the FMCSA uses many tools – including the CSA score system.


You’ve now got the answer to the question “what is a CSA score?”


Do you still have questions? Good! Because we’ve got answers.


Q: What does CSA stand for?

A: CSA is an acronym that stands for Compliance, Safety, and Accountability.


Q: How is a CSA score calculated?

A: A CSA score is based on roadside inspections and crash reports from the preceding two years, as well as data that may have been gathered during investigations into a business’s level of risk. That data is collected by the Safety Measurement System (SMS), which runs an analysis on a monthly basis. The higher the CSA score, the higher the risk posed by the business.


There’s much more to learn about the CSA score system. Keep reading for more insight!


Who gets a CSA score?


First off, it is worth pointing out that individual drivers do not receive a CSA score – only the carriers for which they work. A CSA score is associated with a carrier business’s Department of Transportation (DOT) number. That means that if a driver is charged with a violation, it impacts the carrier’s CSA score. If you think that sounds a little unfair for the business owner, you’re not alone.


Don’t worry though – drivers aren’t allowed to operate vehicles recklessly without the threat of consequences. To balance the liability, drivers have individual Pre-employment Screening Program (PSP) records which are kept by the FMCSA. Those PSP records are essentially summaries of drivers’ history pertaining to crashes and roadside inspection results. So, if a driver does operate vehicles irresponsibly, their record will reflect that behavior. No free rides here!


What does a CSA score mean for your business?


Keeping track of your carrier business’s CSA score is important for many reasons, not only for the sake of giving the FMCSA a window into your business’s level of risk. If you’re curious about what the future of the trucking industry has to hold, let’s just say it’ll look brighter if your CSA score is strong.


Top 5 reasons why your CSA score is important for your business:

  1. Maintaining safety ratings
  2. Attracting customers
  3. Attracting new employees
  4. Avoiding legal consequences
  5. Keeping insurance premium low


Reason #1 – Safety ratings

The primary reason it’s important is that your CSA score has a direct impact on your business’s safety rating. A strong or poor safety rating can mean the difference between a successful business and one that fails. The reputation of your carrier business may depend on your CSA score!


Reason #2 – Attracting customers

When customers search for a carrier to transport their goods, they’ll look at the safety ratings of the companies they consider. A poor CSA score means a poor safety rating, which can understandably turn customers away from your business. Once again, your CSA score can impact your business’s reputation, which can have a real effect on your cash flow.


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Reason #3 – Attracting employees

Customers aren’t the only ones looking at your CSA score. Potential employees will also consider your business’s CSA score when seeking employment opportunities. If your CSA score is weak, it’s an indicator that your business has many violations on record. That can turn out to be especially problematic if you’re looking to beat the labor shortage and hire new drivers, since they may want to avoid joining a trucking company that has a bad track record.


Reason #4 – Legal consequences

A poor CSA score will draw more attention from the FMCSA, and could eventually mean that your trucking business will face interventions, inspections, and even audits. Those consequences are nothing to scoff at. They’ll not only soak up valuable time that would otherwise be put towards operating your business but can also take a heavy toll on your business’s cash flow.


Reason #5 – Insurance premiums

Do you like keeping your business’s expenses low? Yeah, we do too. A good CSA score can keep insurance premiums low. And while paying for an insurance policy is a necessary expense for any business, it’s even truer for trucking companies. A bad CSA score is one clear indication that your business is a risky one to insure, and will lead to higher insurance premiums compared to businesses with better CSA scores.


Alright, so we know a CSA score is important. That’s clear. But if you don’t know how they’re measured, then how can you keep your CSA score strong? We’re glad you asked…


how to check CSA score


Which factors are considered when assigning a CSA score?


There are 7 factors that are considered when the FMCSA assigns a CSA score (listed with explanations below).


Those factors are referred to as BASICs (Behavior Analysis and Safety Improvement Categories). With data regarding the BASICs categories, the FMCSA then ranks the carrier with a percentile ranking between 0 and 100. The higher a CSA score is, the worse the business’s violation record.


If you’re wondering “what is a CSA score based on?”, we’ve got the answer for that also…


The CSA BASICs categories:


  1. Unsafe driving
    This category considers violations related to:

    a. Texting
    b. Speeding
    c. Using a hand-held cell phone
    d. Reckless driving
    e. Improper lane change
    f. Inattention


Side note: While technology is helpful in so many ways (including finding the right business loans), it can be highly distracting for drivers. Don’t text and drive!


  1. Crash indicator
    This category considers the last two years’ records of crashes reported by the State in order to identify carriers with patterns of frequent crash involvement. Crashes are reportable if they result in injury, fatality, or require that a vehicle be transported away from the scene of the crash.

  2. Hours of Service compliance
    HOS compliance is detailed in its own right, but basically (no pun intended) requires that drivers be awake, alert, and have the ability to respond to activity on the road quickly.

  3. Vehicle maintenance
    This category takes into consideration a carrier business’s frequency of inspections, and whether there are records of vehicle defects or repairs. If you find yourself spending a lot of money on repairs, consider commercial vehicle loans to help cover those expenses (or even replace the vehicle altogether!).


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  1. Controlled substances/alcohol
    It might be self-explanatory (or at least we hope so), but this category considers the mishandling or abuse of alcohol and drugs (whether legal or not) which impair a driver’s ability to operate a vehicle safely. As you may imagine, having any container of an alcoholic beverage in a driver’s cabin is a violation – regardless of whether it’s open or not.

  2. Hazardous materials compliance
    This BASIC category considers any requirements for special care to be taken with certain substances. Those regulations may include properly labeling a hazardous material, properly packaging it, properly loading and unloading, and so on.

  3. Driver fitness
    Don’t worry, your drivers don’t need to pass an obstacle course in order to get behind the wheel. Driver fitness refers to ensuring that all necessary paperwork and certificates are completed and validated for all drivers. Having an unqualified driver operate a vehicle owned by your business would be a violation.


With these categories in mind, you have a better idea of what sorts of behaviors you need to avoid in order to keep your CSA score in good standing. The next piece of info you’re likely curious about is how to check your CSA score. If so, you sure are full of good questions!


How do I check my CSA score?


You can check your CSA score for free by visiting the official FMCSA government website. Records are easily accessed and are available to the public.


Once on the FMCSA website, scroll down a bit and you’ll find a search bar in a section titled “Check Motor Carrier Safety and Performance Data”. There you can enter your business’s name, DOT number, or MC number and then click the ‘Search’ button to see your CSA score.


That initial search option will show somewhat limited results though. To see additional data regarding your business’s safety records, you can log in to the Safety Measurement System (SMS). There you’ll find even more information about your business’s safety performance, which you can use to help you improve your CSA score. Which brings us to our next point…


how to check your CSA score


How to improve your CSA score


Since CSA scores are updated on a monthly basis, it’s important to keep an eye open for strategies that you can use to improve your CSA score. While it’ll take some effort to get these strategies put into play, the intended results are well worth the investment.


The bottom line: Improving your CSA score can help strengthen your carrier business in a variety of ways.


Here are the top 3 ways to improve your CSA score:


  1. Check drivers’ PSP reports before hiring

This is a simple way to avoid adding problematic drivers to your team. Check their safety records, and if you spot enough problems, then move on to the next application.


  1. Check vehicles before and after trips

Too much of the time, accidents on the road are the result of mechanical errors or failures. It may seem obvious, but you should always be sure to give your vehicles a look-over before and after they hit the road. You’ll want to see that the brakes work properly, that the tires are in good shape, and so on.


  1. Train (and re-train) drivers

It could be that the drivers you hire are used to operating in a different way than you’re accustomed to. Maybe they have good PSP records, but it might have more to do with luck than with carefulness. For that reason, it’s crucial that you ensure that all of your drivers are abiding by all laws and regulations – and to ensure that time and time again throughout their employment at your business.


Last stop


The trucking industry has its fair share of risks. Not just to those working in that industry, but for basically everyone who drives. It’s essential that your carrier business operates according to all of the road’s rules, regulations, and laws. And to that end, the CSA score is immensely helpful.


We covered a lot of useful info here, including:


  • What is a CSA score?
  • How to check your CSA score
  • Why a CSA score is important
  • And more


If you work in the trucking industry, we want to encourage you to keep this article bookmarked so you can come back to refresh your memory. After all, you can never be too safe!


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Disclaimer: The information contained in this article is provided for informational purposes only, should not be construed as legal advice on any subject matter and should not be relied upon as such. The author accepts no responsibility for any consequences whatsoever arising from the use of such information.