How Low Can You Go? The CSA’s Impact On Your Fleet

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In case you hadn’t noticed, there are a lot of acronyms in the heavy-duty world.

We showcased two of them recently—TMC and ATRI—and then of course there is the DOT, VMRS, and DVIR.

But brace yourselves, friends, because we’re about to throw another acronym at you: CSA.

The Compliance, Safety, Accountability (CSA) program is administered by the yet another acronym, the FMCSA (also called the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration). It’s designed to make sure drivers and carriers are doing their part to keep the roadways safe for everyone, and it does this by assigning a numeric value to various infractions and essentially adding up these values to issue a kind of safety score.

But contrary to what we learned in school, you don’t want a high score in this area. When it comes to the CSA program, the lower you can go, the better it is for everyone.

What is a CSA score?

A carrier’s CSA score is basically a numeric representation of how they rank in the Safety Measurement System (SMS). The SMS pulls data from FMCSA inspections and road crashes “to identify and intervene with motor carriers that pose the greatest risk to safety.”

The SMS is updated once a month. You can learn all about it in this document, but below we’ll break it down quickly.

A carrier’s score is determined by how they rank on the following seven Behavior Analyses and Safety Improvement Categories (BASIC) (yes, more acronyms):

  • Unsafe driving: Speeding, texting while driving, making improper lane changes, or just plain not paying attention.
  • Crash indicator: Utilizes crash patterns from across the states to determine patterns behind crashes.
  • Hours of service compliance: Drivers should be alert and well-rested while on the road.
  • Vehicle maintenance: Drivers must record pre- and post-trip inspections, and carriers must get damaged vehicles repaired before they go back into service.
  • Controlled substances/alcohol: No alcoholic beverages in the cab, and no illegal and/or reflex-altering drugs while driving.
  • Hazardous materials compliance: Hazardous materials must be properly marked, packaged, and loaded.
  • Driver fitness: Driver qualification files must always be complete; think CDLs, medical certificates, and driving records, among other things.

Think of it in terms of points: each violation is worth a certain number of points; therefore, you want the fewest points possible. If you have a low CSA score, that means you’ll get a better safety ranking.

Does anyone really care about CSA scores?

Well…your customers probably do. They can and do check the CSA scores of the carriers they contract with.

Whether your fleet is transporting their expensive goods across town or across the country, they want to make sure those goods have the best chance of arriving intact. Carriers that remain compliant with safety standards are more likely to get their freight from Point A to Point B in a safe and efficient manner.

Conversely, if a potential customer checks out your CSA score and finds that you’ve violated numerous safety standards, they may well pull away from you and ship with someone else.

Drivers can also look up a carrier’s CSA scores, which they can and will do if applying for a role within your fleet. Just like potential customers, a driver may look at a poor score and say, “Nope, not for me.”

Look at it from their perspective: If you aren’t running a safe operation, why would a qualified driver want to work for you?

OK…so how do I get a good CSA score?

Basically, keep your vehicles in good working condition by getting all the preventive maintenance they need, and make sure your drivers are complying with safety regulations. Seriously—just following the law will likely keep you in good standing.

The FMCSA calculates these scores on a 0-100 percentile scale. Zero is where you should aspire to be; 100 is the absolute worst. Each BASIC category (scroll up for a refresh) has an “intervention threshold score,” or a point at which the FMCSA will step in to investigate.

  • Unsafe driving: 65%
  • Crash: 65%
  • HOS compliance: 65%
  • Hazardous materials: 80%
  • Vehicle maintenance: 80%
  • Controlled substances/alcohol: 80%
  • Driver fitness: 80%

Please note that passenger carriers and dedicated hazmat carriers may have different thresholds. You can see a more robust breakdown of these intervention thresholds in the SMS Methodology guidelines.

If your CSA score puts you into the percentiles described above, you’ll wind up on the FMCSA’s naughty list, and anything from sternly-worded letters to increased inspections and audits will be in your future. You may also be looking at steep fines and the FMCSA straight up out-of-servicing a vehicle.

In short, poor CSA scores don’t just indicate poor maintenance and poor driver safety; they also lead to time-consuming and expensive operational slowdowns. Oh, and they don’t make insurance companies very happy; poor CSA scores are generally associated with higher rates, or even withdrawal of coverage.

Good CSA scores, on the other hand, generally mean you and your drivers won’t have to endure as many roadside inspections. You’re also likely looking at lower insurance costs (hooray!) and just generally being more appealing to customers.

How do I check my CSA score?

Very carefully. Just kidding. Head on over to the CSA website and enter your DOT number or carrier name. The site allows the general public to view five of the seven BASIC events (Hazardous Materials and Crash Indicator are not available).

My CSA score is awful! Can I improve it?

Yes, you can—by making sure your drivers are obeying the law and your vehicles are properly maintained! We weren’t joking up top; CSA scores are all about safety. The safer your trucks and drivers are, the better your CSA scores will be.

  • Pay attention to preventive maintenance: Maintaining your trucks properly doesn’t just increase your uptime and therefore your overall profit. Good old-fashioned PM work also helps stop small wear-and-tear issues before they spiral into the kind of violations that impact your CSA score.
  • Hire wisely & provide training: Yes, you’re going to do your bit with PM work, but your drivers are the other half of the CSA equation, so make sure your hires come with sterling safety records. The FMCSA’s Pre-Employment Screening Program can help you with that, as it is a treasure trove of commercial driver records. But even after you hire a driver, don’t just send them off into the sunset with their trucks; make sure they’re completing their pre- and post-trip inspections every day. And as standards and regulations change, continue educating your drivers about what’s expected of them and how they can keep themselves and others safe on the roads.

But remember this: even if you correct all the issues you’ve been dinged for in one (probably expensive) go, you aren’t going to improve your score overnight. Your violations will follow you around for two years. If you commit today to lowering your CSA score and follow through with maintenance and driver training, the ensuing clean reports during audits and inspections will help “clear” your record over the course of the next two years.

And now, a word about preventive maintenance

Here at Fullbay, we’re firm believers that your local repair shop can be your best friend (or trusted business partner) when it comes to lowering and maintaining your CSA score. By trusting your PM work to a shop, you’re giving yourself three huge perks:

  • You’re making sure your vehicles get the service they need. The right repair shop will stay on top of your fleet, letting you know when this vehicle or that is due for their PM work. By taking care of small problems before they can get bigger, you’re minimizing the chance of a preventable issue getting you in trouble with the CSA.
  • You’re letting the shop deal with things. You already have enough paperwork to deal with. Why gaze further into the abyss by attempting to schedule out repairs and maintenance when the shop would be perfectly happy to take it off your hands?
  • You’re letting the techs really get to know your vehicles. The better-acquainted someone is with your trucks, the earlier they’re going to spot problems.

If only there was a way to track this…

Hey, look, it’s time for the inevitable Fullbay plug!

Several fleets are powered by Fullbay. C&W Mechanical, the internal repair arm of C&W Global, has seen what tracking PM work with Fullbay can do for their CSA score. “Fullbay [has] made us a safer fleet. We’ve been able to get our score lower to go after new business,” reports Business Manager Kyle Creeden in our case study. “The maintenance is tighter, so we don’t have downtime, and when the maintenance is tighter, the truck is safer.”

We did say all of this ties back to safety.

A well-maintained fleet is a safe fleet, and a safe fleet goes a long way in getting you that coveted excellent CSA score. That’s where Fullbay comes in: we make it easy for a tech or fleet manager to track preventive maintenance and perform the kind of shop inspection that catches problems before they intensify.

The best way to prevent a bad CSA score is to avoid the mechanical issues that will set off FMCSA warning bells. If you’re ready to help your customers or fleets do just that, give our free demo a whirl. We can’t wait to show you what we can do!

Suz Baldwin

About Suz Baldwin

Suz Baldwin got her start in the automotive industry, writing and editing for several motorcycle and classic car magazines straight out of college. In the years that followed, she’s written all sorts of copy for brands big and small while consuming enough coffee to paralyze a dinosaur.

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