How to Resolve a Poor CSA Score

Oct 11, 2023

A poor CSA score indicates a driver or carrier’s repeated failure to comply with industry-standard safety procedures — at least that’s the intent of the Compliance, Safety and Accountability program, built to improve commercial vehicle safety on the nation’s busy roadways.

On occasion, faulty scores are sometimes issued by mistake or as the result of a misunderstood incident. These cases put carriers in a tough spot, as an unjustified CSA score disrupts incoming business and existing partnerships.

Let’s review the seven “BASICS” supporting the CSA scoring system, learn how to challenge an incident and catch a few tips on bouncing back after receiving a score we’ll simply call “less-than-optimal.”

How Are CSA Scores Calculated?

Always remember CSA scores are a measure of risk — high CSA scores are bad, as they indicate poor safety compliance practices and thus, higher risk.

Scores range from 0 to 100, with low scores (the best scores) awarded to drivers and carriers with a record of seamless pre-trip inspections, clearly documented truck maintenance and a clean driver safety record. Conversely, if a score climbs too high due to repeated or especially severe violations the carrier will come under official FMCSA investigation.

Any strike in the following three areas will significantly impact a CSA score:

1. Violations: Drivers violating any of the seven BASIC scores (see below) will lose points. A detailed list of driving violations can be found within the FMCSA Methodology document, beginning on page 49, but these are the most common:

  • Reckless driving (including texting and phone usage)
  • Excessive speeding (15+ MPH over the limit)
  • Operating a commercial vehicle without a CDL
  • Underinflated tires (safety hazard)
  • Improper material and load handling
  • Inattentive driving

Violation severity, as well as a driver’s violation history (more recent violations carry more weight), are among the most directly influential factors on CSA scores.

2. Accidents: In the past, anyone involved in an accident would see their CSA score take a hit. Thankfully, regulations were adjusted in 2010 to account for the liable party — parties without fault shouldn’t see their scores impacted.

3. Suspensions: A major part of staying CSA-compliant includes maintaining a current CDL. If a CDL is suspended for any reason, the suspension will thus alter the CSA score dramatically.

Behavior Analysis and Safety Improvement Categories (BASICs)

The FMCSA lists seven Behavior Analysis and Safety Improvement Categories, or “BASICs,” defining what it means to drive safely and responsibly. Frequently, drivers keep these principles top-of-mind by posting them somewhere they see every day (like on their pre-trip checklist) as a constant reminder of the FMCSA’s rubric used to compare millions of drivers across the industry.

Today’s safety categories could potentially see some alterations sometime in the near future, but are currently as follows:

1. Unsafe Driving. Holding and using a phone while driving (including texting), reckless driving, speeding, improper lane changes and general inattentiveness endangers everyone on the road and counts against a driver’s safe driving record.

2. Hours of Service (HOS) Compliance. HOS regulations are in place to keep commercial drivers safe and able to respond quickly to sudden hazards and conditions on the road.

3. Driver Fitness. Though physical and mental health are essential for long, successful careers in trucking, this one actually has reference to drivers remaining “fit” to drive — meaning they maintain a valid commercial drivers’ license (CDL), current medical certificates and state driving records.

4. Controlled Substances/Alcohol. Alcohol, illegal drugs and the misuse of medication (prescription or otherwise) is an extreme violation of safety regulations. Keeping containers of alcohol in your cab — open or not — is also considered a severe violation.

5. Vehicle Maintenance. Pre-trip checks for preventative maintenance are a key component of compliance and safety procedures. Record any vehicle defects and see that they are repaired for everything to remain in safe working order.

6. HAZMAT Compliance. Pay special attention to regulations on how to package, mark, label, placard and load hazardous materials to ensure full compliance with the established guidelines.

7. Crash Indicator (Carrier Crash History). Accidents within the past two years are calculated as part of the overall CSA score to minimize consistent or repeated behaviors contributing to crashes.

How to Improve Your CSA Score

It’s important to take a proactive approach when addressing violations and maintaining a clean record. While the precise algorithm behind CSA score calculation can seem a bit convoluted, the grading system is as transparent as can be: follow the BASIC rules and adjust practices to mend any cited violations.

Check FMCSA’s site for updates to your score at least once monthly, and aim to identify patterns among violations received as well as their overall impact. Many violations are relatively simple fixes — knock the easy items off your to-do list immediately, since scores are updated often and will soon reflect these changes after receiving documentation showing improvements were made.

Drivers who receive multiple citations for vehicle maintenance issues should consider implementing a checklist and maintenance schedule to ensure their vehicle remains in compliance with regulations. To further combat maintenance-related issues, carriers can go so far as implementing their own pre-trip safety audits and spot-checks.

Additionally, FMCSA safe driving guidelines consider hands-free phone systems safer and far less distracting while driving. Establishing a firm habit of not driving while sick or tired and keeping to the Hours of Service standard is crucial, both for the sake of compliance and for the driver’s own wellbeing.

Lastly, drivers should always keep their Commercial Driver’s License (CDL) in a safe place that can be accessed easily, and remember to set alarms or notifications in your personal devices to remind you of its renewal dates.

How to Challenge Violations Affecting CSA Score

Drivers have a two-year window to challenge violations through the official DataQs system, which protects carriers and drivers from unjust penalties based on incorrect information. This system collects detailed explanations of each incident, along with any compounding evidence supporting the case (including dash-cam footage and fleet management software data).

If a challenge is successful, the violation will be dismissed and removed from the driver’s CSA score. Even if the violation is not entirely dismissed, a challenge can still lessen the infraction’s severity depending on the circumstances.

Here’s our step-by-step guide to challenging violations affecting your CSA score:

  1. Access the FMCSA’s DataQs website and login or create an account.
  2. Once logged in, submit your request for official review by filling out the DataQ form, providing as much detail as possible as to why you believe the violation or inspection result is incorrect or unjustified.
  3. Add evidence to substantiate your challenge, including maintenance records, driver logs and other relevant documentation.
  4. Submit the DataQ.
  5. Wait while the FMCSA reviews your case. This review process can take some time, so be patient.
  6. Look for any further communication from the FMCSA — during the review process, they may contact you for additional information or clarification.
  7. After reviewing your challenge, the FMCSA will either accept your challenge and make the necessary corrections or provide a justification for keeping the data unchanged.
  8. Monitor your CSA score to confirm a successful challenge results in the desired changes.

Improving a CSA score isn’t impossible, but it is a process requiring consistent effort. Carriers and drivers can (and should) work together to create an expectation of safety within their organizations, and continually seek ways to reduce violations and incidents. In the event of a mistake, act quickly on these steps and monitor your score closely to preserve your reputation and safeguard your business partnerships.

Here at First Call Logistics, we make it a priority to keep partners up-to-date on new FMCSA safety regulations and changes to CSA scoring, as well as provide all the tools needed for safe journeys and efficient shipping practices. Contact us today to learn how First Call prioritizes safety in everything we do.

The 3PL You’ve Been Looking For

Building and managing cost-efficient supply chains is a full-time job. First Call’s rare combination of in-house assets, expert problem-solving and track record of stellar customer service makes us the 3PL of choice for carrier partners looking to make the most of their miles.

“First Call always paid on time and would get me back-hauls whenever possible which was great.”

– Wayne, Carrier

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