Avoid These 10 Common Violations for a Better CSA Score
In 2020, the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (FMCSA) reported 415,000 accidents involving large trucks.
In an effort to minimize danger on the nation’s roadways, the FMCSA implemented the Compliance, Safety and Accountability Program (CSA) to enforce safety precautions and reduce the total number of traffic accidents involving commercial vehicles. Today’s carriers are regularly evaluated according to CSA safety measures — the higher the CSA score, the more risk a carrier presents to potential shippers (and civilian drivers).
It’s important for carriers to understand where their respective CSA scores come from — and what actions they can take to change them. Read on to review the seven BASIC categories and examine ten common (but fixable!) violations affecting CSA scores.
CSA BASICs: A Brief Review
The FMCSA separates Safety Measurement Systems (SMS) into seven categories known as BASICs or Behavior Analysis and Safety Improvement Categories:
- Unsafe driving. This includes speeding, improper lane changes, distracted driving, unbuckled seatbelts and overall reckless driving.
- Crash indicator. Any history of crash involvement.
- Hours-of-Service compliance. A measure of compliance with HOS regulations, including logbooks.
- Vehicle maintenance. Everything from brakes, lights, defects and failure to make repairs when needed.
- Controlled substances and alcohol. Any use or possession of controlled substances and alcohol in the vehicle or before driving.
- Hazardous materials compliance. Any improper packaging, incorrect placement of placards, leaking containers and other failures surrounding safe HAZMAT handling and transport.
- Driver fitness. An invalid license or any medical condition that makes a driver unfit to operate a CMV.
Steer Clear of Common Violations
CSA violations vary by category type and severity, contributing to a driver’s estimated level of risk behind the wheel. Here are ten common culprits known for elevating CSA scores (and remember, when it comes to CSA scores, more points represent more risk):
1. Speeding (392.2S)
Driving a commercial vehicle above posted speed limits will incur an Unsafe Driving violation. Excessive speeding and reckless driving (15+ over the limit) are among the most harshly-penalized CSA infractions, earning 10 points against a driver’s score. While not all speeding is quite so extreme, 2023 violation figures show commercial drivers settling into speeds 6-10 MPH over the limit is incredibly common.
Number of Speeding Violations by Severity, 2023:
- 1-5 mph over: 15,944
- 6-10 mph over: 48,077
- 11-14 mph over: 24,321
- 15+ mph over: 18,061
2. Failing to Use Seat Belt (392.16)
Seat belt violations add eight points to a driver’s “Fitness” score — a major violation for ignoring a simple but potentially life-saving driving habit. Shockingly, commercial drivers failing to buckle up accounted for 1 in every 20 CSA violations in 2023.
3. Unsafe Tires (393.75A3, 393.75C)
The FMCSA has already counted 79,850 instances of flat tires or tires with audible leaks this year, plus another 51,778 violations for tires bearing insufficient tread. Drivers should be conducting pre-trip inspections before each journey — including tire pressure checks — to ensure safe transit. Unsafe tire pressure adds three points to the Vehicle Maintenance CSA category.
4. Damaged or Discolored Windshield (393.60C)
While technically a lighter violation than the others on this list (one point), it’s also among the most frequently-cited and easily-remedied CSA issues with 34,408 such infractions in 2023.
5. Inoperable Required Lamp (393.9)
Inoperable truck lighting is the uncontested champion of CSA score violation frequency, comprising more than 11% of all violations this year. Truck lamps are susceptible both to corrosion within the vehicle’s electrical systems and accumulated debris from thousands of miles on the road. Be sure all truck lighting is in clean working order before each trip, as broken or burnt-out lamps are easy to spot and likely to sideline drivers for further inspection.
Though technically a sub-violation of the above, inoperable turn signals (393.9TS) are worth mentioning here as a particularly common score-wrecker with 84,200 occurrences in 2023.
6. DUI or Possession of Alcohol (392.5A2DETECT, 392.5A3)
Any detectable presence of alcohol in an on-duty commercial driver’s system or vehicle is a serious offense. With nearly one-third of all traffic accidents in the United States involving DUI, the FMCSA severely penalizes any use or signs of alcohol — including containers in the cab.
7. Hours of Service (392.2H, 395.3B2, 395.8E)
CSA regulations include several stipulations governing every driver’s hours of service. There are dozens of ways in which these regulations can be breached, including failure to account for a driver’s full hours, attempts to manipulate hours outside of HoS requirements and false reporting (FMCSA tallied 47,755 false reporting violations this year). Each risks harm to civilian drivers and the truckers themselves, which is why Hours of Service violations prompt an immediate 7-point penalty.
8. Operating Without a CDL (383.23A2)
A lost or expired CDL is a serious infraction. Drivers found operating commercial vehicles without a valid license will incur an eight-point violation against their Driver Fitness category and likely be subject to further disciplinary action. Nearly 5% of all infractions this past year included drivers with outdated or missing CDLs.
9. Failing to Secure Cargo (392.9A1, 393.100–393.142)
Properly secured cargo is required for safe transit; any cargo found shifting, falling or spilling due to insufficient tie-downs or other important safety measures (a critical component of every trip’s pre-check safety assessment) will receive a Vehicle Maintenance penalty of 1, 3 or 7 points depending on the infraction’s severity.
10. Lane Restriction Violation (392.2LV)
Posted lane restrictions keep traffic flowing safely throughout the country’s winding network of interstates. Failure to heed truck-only signage or threading through the center and left lanes (with some exceptions, like safely passing slower vehicles) will ultimately result in CSA penalties. Lane restriction violations are a 3-point infraction, while following too closely, improper passing and improper lane changes each invite 5-point “Dangerous Driving” penalties.
BONUS: Texting While Driving (392.80A)
Texting violations are as severe as they come, incurring an immediate 10-point penalty in the Unsafe Driving category. While admittedly rare among commercial drivers (the FMCSA reports 821 texting and driving incidents so far in 2023, or 0.1% of all violations), the consequences of operating a vehicle while distracted are potentially fatal. At 55 mph, just five seconds spent sending or reading a text is the equivalent of driving the length of a football field with your eyes shut.
The Department of Transportation reported 3,522 deaths in 2021 due to distracted driving. Keep the roads safe — never text and drive.
Be Proactive, Keep Your CSA Score Healthy
Simple safety checklists, pre-trip inspections, updated credentials and well-organized paperwork can ward off most CSA violations and keep vehicles and drivers operating safely. Contact our experts at First Call Logistics to learn how we ensure safe road transport throughout our shipping and carrying networks, plus how to improve your most recent CSA score and how to remove errors impacting your CSA score from your driving record.
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“First Call always paid on time and would get me back-hauls whenever possible which was great.”
– Wayne, Carrier
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