What is the CSA?

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CSA definition

CSA stands for Compliance, Safety, and Accountability. It is a federal initiative that grades trucking companies based on safety performance and crash reports. The program is operated by the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (FMCSA), the main federal agency in charge of regulatory oversight for commercial vehicles. There are three main parts of the CSA program:

  • Safety Measurement System (SMS): A system that analyzes safety data and organizes them into seven Behavior Analysis and Safety Improvement Categories (BASICs). The SMS assigns carriers into groups according to these BASICs and gives each fleet a percentile ranking of 0 to 100.

  • Intervention: The next major component of the CSA program is interventions. FMCSA sets intervention thresholds for carriers based on percentile rankings, which are intended to indicate crash risk. Carriers who exceed these thresholds can be placed on FMCSA priority lists, and may be cited for violations or subjected to fines.

    Additionally, carriers with poor safety performance and compliance records, that rank just above intervention thresholds, receive intervention warning letters. Or they are targeted with roadside inspections, follow-up investigations and follow-up measures to help improve their safety record.

  • Safety Fitness Determination (SFD): When an onsite investigation (as part of an intervention) has been completed, the FMCSA issues a Safety Fitness Determination for a carrier that is either satisfactory, conditional or unsatisfactory. This reflects the carrier’s safety at a given time and is not constantly updated like SMS rankings.

    Being flagged by the FMCSA for safety issues can have serious implications for your business, and potentially force you to close. To maintain an optimal safety record and avoid compliance issues, it’s critical to understand how the FMCSA calculates safety scores for carriers, and how you can improve yours.

What is a CSA score?

CSA scores are measurements used to assess the safety practices of commercial fleets, carriers and drivers. These scores are assigned to motor carriers based on their Department of Transportation (DOT) number.

The FMCSA uses CSA scores to identify carriers with safety issues and prioritize them for investigations and interventions. Tracking CSA scores is critical for protecting driver safety and maintaining FMCSA and DOT compliance.

CSA scores are divided into several different categories, and calculated based on a combination of factors. Understanding these factors can help you identify risks and optimize your safety practices.

How are CSA scores calculated?

CSA scores are divided into seven different categories, known as Behavior Analysis and Safety Improvement Categories (BASICs). Carriers are given a separate CSA score for each of these categories, depending on their risk level for that area:

  • Unsafe driving: Violations that will impact your score in this category include speeding, reckless driving, improper lane change, distracted driving and seat belt misuse.
  • Crash indicator: This category is based on your company’s record of involvement in vehicle accidents and crashes, measured in terms of frequency and severity.
  • Hours-of-Service compliance: Your score in this category is based on your adherence to HOS regulations, including the maintenance of records of duty status or electronic logging devices (ELDs).
  • Vehicle maintenance: Examples of violations in this category include mechanical defects and improper loading.
  • Illegal drugs/alcohol: Operating a commercial vehicle while under the influence of drugs and/or alcohol, as recorded in pre-employment screening program (PSP) reports against commercial driver’s license (CDL) holders.
  • Hazardous materials compliance: Examples of violations in this category include unsafe handling of hazardous materials and/or improper documentation of hazmat shipments.
  • Driver fitness: Violations in this category involve allowing unfit drivers to operate commercial vehicles, such as drivers who are unlicensed, untrained or not medically cleared for work.

The Safety Measurement System (SMS) calculates CSA scores using roadside inspection, traffic enforcement and crash report data from the previous 24 months. In determining a carrier’s CSA scores, the FMCSA considers factors such as the severity of incidents, how recently they occurred and annual vehicle miles traveled.

What is considered a good CSA score?

CSA scores are measured on a 0 to 100 percentile scale, with zero being the best possible rating and 100 being the worst. The lower the CSA score is, the safer a fleet is. A higher CSA score can influence the frequency of roadside inspections, the number of DOT audits and even insurance premiums for high-risk motor carriers.

Conversely, maintaining a low CSA score can help you reduce your insurance premiums, avoid scrutiny from federal agencies and improve your reputation among your customer base. The FMCSA sets intervention thresholds for each CSA score category individually, according to its impact on crash risk:

  • For the unsafe driving, crash indicator, and Hours-of-Service (HOS) compliance categories, the intervention threshold is 65%.
  • For the vehicle maintenance, illegal drugs/alcohol, driver fitness and hazardous materials compliance categories, the intervention threshold is 80%.

Additionally, carriers who are close to exceeding the intervention thresholds in any of these categories may receive warnings from the FMCSA, and are more likely to be subjected to surprise inspections, investigations and other measures designed to improve safety.

How do you improve a CSA score?

Achieving and maintaining a good CSA score can benefit your employees and your business in significant ways. Taking the following steps can help you optimize your company’s safety and compliance practices, and improve your CSA scores over time.

Attention to vehicle maintenance

Vehicle maintenance is a key component of the CSA scoring process. Adhering to proper maintenance practices can help you prevent accidents and avoid violations. Conversely, unaddressed maintenance issues like faulty lights and damaged tires can increase crash risk, attract fines from regulators and cause your CSA score to go up.

Implementing a preventive maintenance program, and mandating vehicle inspections before and after every trip can ensure that no CSA rules are violated and no dangerous issues go unaddressed.

Additionally, equipping your vehicles with GPS fleet tracking software can help you stay on top of any maintenance issues that arise between inspections, allowing you to monitor compliance more effectively and maximize the lifespan of your vehicles.

Increased training programs

Because violations committed by individuals can impact an entire organization’s CSA score, employee training is essential for staying above the intervention threshold. All new employees should receive training that covers the primary violations associated with each of the seven BASICs, and explains the best practices for avoiding them.

To maintain consistently good CSA scores, you will also likely need to provide your existing drivers with continued oversight to ensure that they are up-to-date on best practices. This may involve mandating regular ‘check-ins’ on drivers and using fleet dash cams to review safety incidents and identify and correct dangerous practices.

Careful hiring practices

Along with providing adequate safety training, it’s also critical to vet prospective new hires to ensure they will be safe and responsible employees. Federal agencies take violations by drivers very seriously, so it’s important to implement careful hiring practices.

The hiring process should include a thorough review of candidates’ pre-employment screening program (PSP) records, which contain five years of crash data and three years of roadside inspection data from the FMCSA database.

Additionally, you should make sure any commercial drivers have a clean history of drug screenings, as drug/alcohol-related violations by employees can directly affect your company’s CSA score.

There are also digital tools and technologies that can help you screen new hires more effectively. Today, many carriers are utilizing GPS fleet tracking software to monitor their employee’s behavior. The data provided by these programs can help carriers more easily identify past violations and other red flags in a prospective employee’s history.

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