You’ve probably heard that bad CSA scores can lead to investigations and fines—or even get your trucking company shut down. That’s true, but it’s an oversimplification.
Technically speaking, there’s no such thing as an official CSA score, good or bad. Federal agencies can and will step in with warnings and fines and worse if trucking companies don’t comply with safety regulations. And these agencies do use data to decide when and where to intervene. It’s just a bit more complicated than a single CSA score.
We usually use the term “CSA score” as shorthand for the data-based safety profile the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (FMCSA) maintains on every trucking company in the U.S. We’ll explain the basics of the FMCSA’s safety program in the following FAQ.
Technically speaking, there’s no such thing as an official CSA score, good or bad.
While safety compliance in the trucking industry isn’t as simple as keeping a single score above a set threshold, as long as you take a proactive approach to operational safety, you can generally stay within the FMCSA’s good graces—and keep truck drivers and everyone else safer on the road. It all starts with understanding the regulatory framework that surrounds trucking safety, which gets the heart of our notions about CSA scores.
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What is a CSA score (and what is considered a “good” CSA score)?
While the FMCSA doesn’t use the term “CSA score,” it does operate an extensive safety compliance program called Compliance, Safety, and Accountability, or CSA for short. The CSA program determines safety measurements in two ways:
- Through onsite investigations, after which the CSA may issue a Safety Fitness Determination (SFD) rating, more simply called a safety rating.
- Through ongoing safety performance data, organized into a centralized Safety Measurement System (SMS). The SMS issues percentile ratings between 0 and 100 for seven categories of safety compliance (we’ll describe those a bit later).
Let’s start with the safety rating; it’s simpler. There are only four possible ratings, which the FMCSA may issue following an onsite investigation:
- Satisfactory means the FMCSA has determined a trucking company meets basic safety fitness standards.
- Conditional means the CSA program administrators don’t think a company’s safety practices are sufficient to prevent dangerous situations, but that they haven’t yet actually violated a safety fitness standard.
- Unsatisfactory means the trucking company is failing to comply with CSA safety rules and that safety violations have occurred and been documented.
- Unrated means the FMCSA hasn’t issued an SFD rating for the carrier. That’s usually a good thing; onsite investigations may indicate safety concerns or even incidents.
The goal for SFD ratings should be to either stick with Unrated or achieve a Satisfactory score.
What happens if you have a bad CSA safety rating?
When CSA investigators issue Conditional or Unsatisfactory ratings, they intervene. A Conditional rating may lead to warning letters, targeted roadside inspections, investigations, or the establishment of a Cooperative Safety Plan (CSP) for ongoing, in-depth assistance. A final rating of Unsatisfactory can lead to an Operation-Out-Of-Service Order (OOSO)—the end of the business.
But even if the FMCSA can help you avoid the worst legal outcomes of Conditional safety ratings, poor safety performance may still lead to serious trouble.
Even a Conditional rating can send your insurance premiums sky-high—or even cause insurers to refuse coverage.
Without insurance, you can’t operate, so keeping a Satisfactory or Unrated safety rating is extremely important.
But remember that safety ratings are only one of the two programs FMCSA officials use to decide where to intervene. They also consider a carrier’s granular safety data, as revealed in the SMS. The FMCSA maintains a running percentile rating for seven Behavior Analysis and Safety Improvement Categories (BASICs), and if those numbers get too high, carriers can run into trouble with both the FMCSA and insurers.
How does CSA score calculation for BASIC percentiles work?
The FMCSA collects safety data on every operating carrier in the U.S. and organizes it in the SMS, the centralized, online Safety Measurement System. Carriers can log into the SMS to keep tabs on their safety data, which is updated monthly.
First, the FMCSA collects data from a variety of sources, including:
- Roadside inspections (of drivers and/or vehicles)
- CSA investigations (onsite or offsite)
- Crash reports from state or local law enforcement
- Carrier census data
Then it organizes that data into the seven BASICs, which include:
- Unsafe driving—for violations like speeding, texting while driving, and skipping the seat belt
- Crash Indicator—for traffic accidents.
- Hours Of Service Compliance—for violations of the FMCSA’s Hours of Service regulations.
- Vehicle Maintenance—for maintenance violations like missing brake lights, dropped freight, and skipped repairs.
- Controlled Substances and Alcohol—for a driver’s use or possession of controlled substances and the effectiveness of company-wide policies like drug-and-alcohol testing programs.
- Hazardous Materials Compliance—for failures to comply with HazMat safety regulations, for example failure to label containers and trailers, and missed inspections.
- Driver Fitness—for driver-related factors like missing driver qualification files and expired commercial driver’s licenses (CDLs).
For each of these categories, the SMS considers the number of violations, when they occurred, and how severe they were—plus the total number of inspections for the carrier’s fleet within the study time period.
|Why CSA Inspections Are Often Good For BASIC Percentiles|
|If you get flagged for a CSA inspection at the weigh station or on the side of the road, that could help your safety profile. When calculating BASIC percentiles, the SMS divides the number of violations by the total number of inspections (among other calculations). That means the more clean inspections you add to your record, the more any small violations will be diluted in the numbers. In short, it may pay off to go for as many CSA inspections as you can get—provided you comply with FMCSA safety regulations, of course.|
Then the SMS compares these measurements to the broader industry, calculating a percentile rating, a number from 0 to 100. Higher numbers are worse; you want to keep your BASIC percentiles as low as possible.
Finally, note that the BASIC percentile and the safety ratings we discussed earlier are two separate metrics. Your BASIC percentiles won’t affect a safety rating.
How many points are you allowed on your CSA score, in terms of BASIC percentiles?
Safety violations in the trucking industry aren’t like points on a driver’s license; they enter into a complex calculation to determine a number that moves with industry averages. That said, the FMCSA did publish BASIC intervention thresholds in August of 2021 (keep in mind that those may change).
These are the numbers that trigger an FMCSA intervention, whether that’s a simple warning letter, an onsite investigation—potentially leading to a downgraded safety rating—or worse. Here are those thresholds for general trucking companies (as opposed to hazardous-material transporters or passenger carriers):
|FMCSA Safety Thresholds|
|Hours Of Service Compliance||65%|
|Controlled Substances and Alcohol||80%|
|Hazardous Materials Compliance||80%|
These are just the FMCSA’s thresholds; they may intervene in cases with lower numbers, and insurance companies may use different guidelines. High BASIC percentiles also reflect patterns of poor safety compliance, the key thing to avoid in the trucking business. So what is a good CSA score, if we’re talking about BASIC percentiles? As close to zero as possible.
For more help navigating CSA, visit the FMCSA’s CSA page—it’s full of safety and compliance resources for the trucking industry. To check your company’s current BASIC percentiles, access the SMS and type in your DOT number.