Safety on the road is a big deal for everyone — from truck drivers and mini-van drivers to bicyclists and pedestrians.
But for truck drivers, it goes one step further. As the biggest vehicle on the road, you have to make sure you’re doing your due diligence to ensure your truck/trailer is in good working order, you’re keeping a safe following distance and you’re following the rules set forth by the Department of Transportation (DOT).
That’s part of why the Compliance, Safety and Accountability (CSA) program was started: to ensure all motor carriers focus on keeping the roadways safe. Any safety violation you receive is subject to CSA points. As an owner-operator running under your own authority, you’ll see the direct (negative) effects of a high CSA score — from customers who refuse to work with you to lower rates.
No driver wants to deal with either of these issues, especially if you’re trying to make it as a small carrier. If you have a few trucks in your fleet, you’ll be directly responsible for ensuring your drivers are following the CSA program as well.
In my role as compliance manager at Anderson Trucking Service (ATS), I am continually monitoring our CSA score and making sure our drivers are informed of optimal safety practices.
This article will serve as a reminder of what the CSA program is and what a CSA score means for you as an owner-operator or small carrier. Additionally, you’ll learn more about how it influences your ISS score.
What is the CSA Program?
The CSA program was introduced in 2010 by the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Safety Administration (FMCSA) to improve road safety by making sure motor carriers and drivers meet safety specifications.
A score is assigned to each motor carrier from 1 to 100. The higher the score, the worse your safety rating. Scores are measured against carriers of a similar size and the number and severity of violations.
Incident recency also plays a factor, with points staying on a carrier’s score for 24 months.
CSA scores are updated monthly. The evaluation timeframe closes on the last Friday of each month. In the week following, the scores are calculated. Then, on the Monday after processing, scores are released.
CSA scores are based on seven categories or safety metrics. They’re called Behavior Analysis and Safety Improvement Categories (BASIC) and include the following:
- Unsafe Practices: Not wearing a seatbelt while driving, using a phone while operating a vehicle or driving in a prohibited lane, etc.
- Vehicle Maintenance: Leaving unresolved issues with brakes, tires or lights
- Hours of Service (HOS) Violations: Not adhering to HOS regulations
- Driver Fitness Issues: Having an expired license or medical card
- Drugs and Alcohol Possession: Having drugs or alcohol in the truck
- Hazmat: Not following hazmat regulations
- Crashes: Any recordable accident
How Do You Get CSA Points?
Points can be given out during roadside inspections, at weigh stations and after accidents. Each violation is assigned a corresponding code that matches one of the categories.
The points accumulated for each violation differ, but the length of time points are held on the driver's or carrier’s record remains consistent.
For both carriers and drivers, the points are highest in the year following the offense. For drivers, points triple in the year following the offense, they double in the second year and they’re taken at face value in the third year before they drop from your CSA record.
For example, if you get a violation worth three points, your record would show nine, six and then three points in the three years after the violation, respectively.
For carriers, points triple in the six months after the offense, they double in the next six months and they’re taken at face value in the final year before dropping from your record.
If you’re an owner-operator running under your own authority, your points will directly reflect on your CSA score. If you have any drivers in your fleet, those points will also reflect on your small carrier’s CSA score.
You may decide to dole out penalties for BASIC violations. For example, large carriers won’t hire drivers with too many CSA points on their driving records. They may also fire drivers if they earn too many points while on the fleet.
What’s a Good CSA Score?
You want your CSA score to be as low as possible. Remember, a score of 0 is good.
With a good CSA score, your fleet (or you as an owner-operator) will reap the rewards.
CSA scores are public, so potential customers can see them. Your CSA score can influence their decision to work with you. A low CSA score is like having a good reputation.
Therefore, a great CSA score can give you access to more customers and you can secure higher freight rates. Customers can trust that you’ll deliver freight safely and on time. In today’s market, this can be a huge benefit to you and help you stand out among small carriers.
Not only that, but you (and the drivers on your fleet) will face fewer inspections and DOT audits. That means you can spend more time on the road and less time at scales.
A low CSA score could also lower insurance premiums.
What’s a Bad CSA Score?
The higher your CSA score, the worse it is. Each of the BASIC categories is associated with a percentage that weighs on your score. In general, if you have a CSA score over 50, you’re subject to negative consequences.
For starters, you’ll have to undergo a lot more inspections — which keeps you off the road waiting to be inspected and puts you at risk of receiving more points. You could even receive a compliance review and be given an out-of-service order.
Customers who see your high CSA score may decide not to work with you, either.
The only way to lower your CSA score is through time and clean inspections. When adding drivers to the fleet, be sure you’re looking at their driving records. You may decide not to hire drivers with a lot of incidents on their records.
What is an ISS Score?
The ISS score, or the Inspection Selection System, is related to a company's CSA score, but the two aren’t the same thing. This score is a tool roadside inspectors use to decide if they’ll pull a truck over for an inspection.
Each month, carriers are assigned an ISS score when updated CSA scores are made public. The probability of you or drivers on the fleet being subjected to inspections increases with a higher ISS score.
In certain areas, automated systems are utilized to promptly scan a vehicle's license plate and DOT number to acquire the carrier's ISS score. This allows officials to quickly and easily determine if an inspection is necessary.
ISS scores range from 0 to 100 and can be thought of as a traffic light. The chances of getting inspected become greater as the score increases.
A carrier with an ISS score of 0-50 will receive a "green light," indicating that the truck doesn’t need to be pulled over for an inspection.
A score of 51-74 is a yellow light, meaning the truck may be stopped at the inspector’s discretion for an inspection.
An ISS score between 75 and 100 is cause to be automatically pulled off the road for an inspection.
Do Pre-Trip Inspections
Safety on the road should be your top concern. Unsafe driving is a hazard to everyone on the road.
Unsafe driving doesn’t just impact you on the road as an owner-operator; it puts your daily business at risk. As an owner-operator, you’ll feel the direct consequences of driving violations and CSA points. Remember: The higher the CSA score, the more negative consequences you may face.
If you have a few trucks in your fleet, your company’s overall CSA score will impact them too. It can make it more difficult to secure customers and good freight rates.
Be proactive in preventing accidents and consider driving records before you add new drivers to your fleet.
If you want to keep your CSA points in an appropriate range, it's essential to do your pre-trip and post-trip inspections. Daily pre-trip inspections are one of the easiest ways to stay on top of potential issues.
Scheduling regular check-ups for your truck is a great way to keep it in optimal condition. Regular service intervals will help prevent difficulties while out on the road.