safety scores insurance cost recaps

Event Recap: Trucking Insurance & Compliance

Disclaimer: nothing in this article is meant to constitute legal advice; it is intended solely for educational purposes. If you have legal questions, we recommend that you consult with a qualified professional.

On Thursday, April 25, 2024, we hosted a live virtual workshop with Sandeep Singh, Founder and Director of Deep Compliance Services, LLC. Deep Compliance serves hundreds of carriers, helping them to manage and improve their safety scores. With over a decade of trucking compliance experience, Sandeep shared tips for small carriers to manage their safety scores and manage the cost of their insurance premiums over time.

Event recording

Here are some of the takeaways we learned during the event:

Insurance is a top expense and it’s getting more expensive.

Commercial trucking insurance is one of the biggest, if not the biggest, fixed expenses for trucking companies. A fixed expense means that, no matter how many miles you run, you need to pay the same cost every month, similar to a truck payment or a laid board fee.

Premiums increased from 6.4 cents per mile in 2013 to 8.8 cents per mile in 2022, and even more in the last two years.

Beyond macroeconomic trends affecting insurance pricing, trucking businesses’ safety scores play the most important role in determining carriers’ costs

Everyone has access to your safety scores.

Since 2010, the DOT’s Compliance, Safety, Accountability (CSA) program has been compiling data and establishing thresholds to determine safety ratings for motor carriers in seven categories, called the BASICs:

  • Unsafe driving
  • Hours of service
  • Driver fitness
  • Controlled substance/alcohol
  • Vehicle maintenance
  • Hazardous materials compliance
  • Crash indicator

Learn more about the CSA BASICs in this article: What Is Considered A “Good” CSA Score?

Carriers’ safety scores are public knowledge. Your insurance company has access to your scores and violations at all times. When your insurance plan is up for renewal, this is where insurance companies will look first to determine your new rate. They can even deny coverage if your scores are too high.

Potential customers also look up your safety scores before giving you a load and may refuse to work with you based on this information.

The only information that is not public is the crash indicator. To get access to this score for your company, you need your USDOT PIN. If you’re a new carrier getting an operating authority, this is the first thing you should obtain once you have your DOT and MC numbers.

The first step is knowing where you stand.

The most common mistake owner-operators make is only paying attention to the Safety Management System when it’s already too late. This is the most important issue when running a trucking business – don’t put it off!

First, find out what your safety scores are.

  1. Find your company snapshot at by entering your USDOT number in the search.
  2. Click on “SMS Results” on the right-hand panel under “Other Information for this Carrier”
  3. Select one of the seven BASIC categories to see your scores and list of violations.

Understanding the Crash Indicator BASIC

A fender bender will not appear in your Crash Indicator score. An accident will only be registered under the Crash Indicator if any of the involved vehicles are towed or if there’s an injury or fatality on the scene.

Even if the crash didn’t affect any other vehicles on the road (skids off the road, driver loses control), if the vehicle is towed, it will count as a crash.

Violations and citations are not the same thing.

When a driver gets pulled over, they may receive a violation, a citation, or both. Here’s the difference:

  • A citation is assigned to the driver and the driver is responsible for the fine or penalty.
  • A violation is assigned to the carrier and will affect your BASIC scores.

Sometimes owner-operators get confused, thinking they only received a “warning” at a stop and that it won’t go on their company’s safety record. Any violation you receive at a scale will stay on your company’s record for two years and it will impact your DOT scores, unless you challenge it and get it removed.

Tires and brakes are the most common maintenance violations.

Issues related to brakes and tires can put you immediately out of service and you will not be able to leave the scale or audit site until the issue is fixed. 

Keep up with regulations.

You don’t know what you don’t know! Regulations regarding hours of service and other BASICs change periodically. If you don’t keep up with the news coming out about regulations, you’re putting your business at risk.

The FMCSA provides newsletters on the drug and alcohol program, medical program, HOS, ELDs, and other rules and regulations. Subscribe by following the links on this page of the FMCSA website.

Improve communication to prevent violations.

Sometimes, only a driver and dispatcher or manager will know if the driver got a violation or citation on a particular day. Unless there is a culture of open communication in the business, the owner or compliance manager may not know for weeks or months. Other drivers may never find out, missing out on the opportunity to learn from the mistake.

Sandeep recommends that, for carriers with more than one truck, every driver should know when a violation occurs and how to avoid it for themselves. If proof of insurance or ELD instructions are missing from one truck, chances are they’re missing from another truck.

It’s not about shaming the driver or whoever “fault” it is. It’s about ensuring everyone in the business is up-to-date on changing regulations and preventing future violations from reoccurring. 

Get ready for the International Roadcheck

Every year, the Commercial Vehicle Safety Alliance does an International Roadcheck event in May to review nearly 15 commercial vehicles every minute for 72 hours. This year (2024), the event will be held May 14-16 and will focus on these categories:

  • Controlled substances and alcohol, including Clearinghouse queries
  • Tractor protection and anti-bleed back systems

Many carriers don’t understand the Drug & Alcohol Clearinghouse

Sandeep estimated that about 40% of the carriers seeking his services are not compliant with the FMCSA Drug & Alcohol Clearinghouse. The clearinghouse shares information about drivers, employers, and their drug testing programs in one place. 

Before hiring a driver, employers must perform a full query on the clearinghouse of the applicant to make sure you don’t have any unresolved drug or alcohol issues. In addition, employers have to run annual queries on drivers. 

Carriers also must enroll drivers in a random drug and alcohol testing program run by an FMCSA-approved lab. Carriers should add their testing provider to their clearinghouse portal to be notified of any issues related to their drivers. 

If a driver tests positive during a random drug test, they have to complete a Return to Duty process before they can be employed again as a driver.

Learn more about the FMCSA Drug and Alcohol Clearinghouse in this article.

How to dispute violations

There are several reasons why you might need to dispute a violation:

  • The violation or crash was assigned to your carrier on accident.
  • The officer was rushed and didn’t understand the situation.
  • You took the violation to court and got the citation dismissed.
  • A crash was the result of another driver being impaired or another non-preventable situation (such as a rear-ending)

In these cases, you can use the FMCSA’s DataQs platform to dispute these violations.

This is particularly useful for small carriers driving fewer than a million miles in a year because crashes affect their scores more.

Take control of your safety scores!

If you have more questions about compliance, you can contact Deep Compliance Services at 240-260-2331 or