Driver Compliance, Vehicle Safety Compliance

How to Ace Your Safety Management CSA Score

Your Safety Management Score also called CSA Score and FMCSA Score, is super important. It’s a data-driven safety compliance and enforcement program designed to improve safety and prevent commercial motor vehicle crashes, injuries, and fatalities. It’s been in effect since December 2010. Compliance, Safety, Accountability (CSA) is the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (FMCSA)’s data-driven safety compliance and enforcement program.

The CSA Score ranks a commercial trucking company or driver from 0 to 100. Each infraction adds points to the score, and the violations are based on severity and frequency. Drivers with a higher frequency of safety violations than their peers are more likely to be audited. Stay out of the FMCSA crosshairs. Compliance and correction are the keys to avoiding audits. Speeding violations, hours of service issues, or positive drug and alcohol tests need immediate follow-up with corrective actions and documentation.

Each month, a driver’s profile is updated with any relevant violations. The lower the score, the better. The Safety Management Score compares your company to the industry average. The CSA score program consists of three core components; the Safety Measurement System (SMS), interventions, and a Safety Fitness Determination (SFD) rating system. The CSA program determines the safety fitness of commercial motor carriers, which helps the FMCSA remove unfit carriers to operate on our roads.

What is the Safety Measurement System (SMS)?

The SMS is the FMCSA system that uses data from investigations, roadside inspections, and crash reports from the last two years to identify and intervene with commercial trucking companies that pose the most significant risk to public safety.

FMCSA updates the SMS monthly. The data are organized into seven Behavior Analysis and Safety Improvement Categories (BASIC). The SMS groups commercial truck drivers and companies by BASIC with other commercial truck drivers and companies with similar safety events and then ranks them and assigns a percentile to prioritize them for interventions. This is how the FMCSA arrives at your CSA Score.

The CSA Safety Measurement BASICs

The following are the seven CSA Safety Measurement BASICs that affect your Safety Management Score:

  1. Unsafe Driving
    Prioritizes interventions for repeated unsafe behaviors such as reckless driving, speeding, inattention, improper lane change, or no seatbelts
  2. Crash Indicator
    Identifies patterns of high crash involvement and the contributing behaviors
    Histories of non-public crash involvement
  3. Hours-of-Service Compliance (HOC)
    Enforces requirements to ensure drivers are awake, alert, and able to respond quickly
    Noncompliance with hours-of-service (HOS) regulations, including logbooks
  4. Vehicle Maintenance
    Verifies proper vehicle maintenance to ensure safety on the road, including pre-trip and post-trip inspections, vehicle defects, repairs, and failure to make required repairs
  5. Controlled Substance and Alcohol
    Confronts misuse of alcohol, illegal drugs, and over-the-counter prescription medications 
  6. Hazardous Material Compliance
    Enforces regulations that require special attention for dangerous materials, such as proper packaging, understanding regulations for tank specification testing, leaking containers, improper packaging, or placarding 
  7. Driver Fitness
    Investigates driving records, including commercial drivers’ licenses (CDLs), medical certificates, annual reviews, state driving records, invalid license, medically unfit to operate a commercial motor vehicle reports

Be Ready for Your Safety Management Audits

Don’t expect to receive an FMCSA letter that an investigation or audit has begun, followed by a knock on the door for an in-person safety audit. Be ready for an FMCSA email with instructions to upload files, followed by a phone call to discuss your audit performance.

The FMCSA has significantly ramped up remote safety compliance reviews because of the COVID-19 pandemic and given notice on May 20, 2020, that this policy “shall remain in effect until the revocation of the Presidentially declared COVID-19 national emergency.”

FMCSA’s new guidance explains that FMCSA will assign safety ratings following a compliance review without any on-site inspections during this state of emergency. The agency says technology now allows for the same investigative functions remotely that it could previously only do by in-person reviews. 

Off-site audits are now the new norm. Not only are they more resource-efficient, but they also allow the FMCSA to expand its enforcement reach, which has been a priority goal for the agency.

Unlike the past casual-seeming off-site safety audits, now they can just as quickly go badly as an on-site review, leading to less-than-satisfactory safety ratings and costly civil penalties. Expect FMCSA to find problems. With remote audits, that conclusion will come quickly. The entire process can take as little as one week, with conclusions arriving within two weeks.

Get Organized Ahead of Time

With the off-site audit being a real and more frequent possibility, after you get notified, you might have as little as 48-hours to upload the requested files to FMCSA. Typically they’ll want detailed paperwork for the following six aspects of your commercial trucking business: 

A complete and up-to-date response will help you efficiently address FMCSA safety audits.

What are the Safety Management Score Ratings?

The Safety Ratings are safety fitness determinations that are awarded in one of the following three rating flavors:


You have functional and adequate safety management controls to meet the safety fitness standard prescribed in 49 CFR 385.5. Safety management controls are adequate if they are appropriate for the size and type of operation of the carrier.


You do not have adequate safety management controls to ensure compliance with the safety fitness standard that could result in the following safety risks:

  • Commercial driver’s license standard violations 
  • Inadequate levels of financial responsibility 
  • The use of unqualified drivers
  • Improper use and driving of motor vehicles 
  • Unsafe vehicles operating on the highways
  • Failure to maintain accident registers and copies of accident reports
  • The use of fatigued drivers
  • Inadequate inspection, repair, and maintenance of vehicles 
  • Transportation of hazardous materials, driving and parking rule violations
  • Violation of hazardous materials regulations
  • Motor vehicle accidents and hazardous materials incidents.


You do not have adequate safety management controls to ensure compliance with the safety fitness standard, resulting in the occurrence of one or more of the above-listed Conditional safety risks. You’ll get a notice that the FMCSA has made a preliminary determination that you are “unfit” to continue operating in interstate commerce. If necessary safety improvements are not made, the prohibitions in 49 CFR 385.13 will be imposed after 45 or 60 days, depending on your carrier type.

How to Avoid an Off-Site Safety Management Audit?

Stay off the FMCSA’s radar. The same way as for an on-site audit. Immediately follow up with corrective actions and document them thoroughly. Whatever the violation risk, speeding violations, positive drug and alcohol tests, hours-of-service compliance issues, etc. Compliance and correction are the keys to avoiding safety audits and be ready to prove it with comprehensive documentation, just in case.

What Does the Safety Management Score Impact?

A Safety Management Score can impact both commercial truck drivers and commercial trucking companies in several ways, including:

The Cost of Fines and Penalties

FMCSA, like all federal regulatory agencies, has the authority to issue fines and penalties based on violations of the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Regulations or Hazardous Materials Regulations. The purpose of civil penalties is deterrence. Enforcement cases are initiated when investigations indicate a continuing high-risk pattern of unsafe or illegal behavior. Civil penalties can be levied against commercial trucking companies and their employees, including drivers, in certain instances.

Look at the Uniform Fine Assessment section of the FMCSA website to see just how substantial the deterrence can be. Serious hours-of-service violations, for example, can result in a fine of up to $16,000,  and for a hazardous materials violation, the maximum civil penalty is $75,000.

To maintain this deterrence impact, federal law requires federal agencies to annually adjust the minimum and maximum civil penalty amounts for inflation. This is all done without notice and with an immediate effective date. The 2019 adjustments to FMCSA civil penalties can be found in the Federal Register. Predictably, the cost of many of the penalties has increased.

The good news is that the FMCSA is not required to impose the maximum penalty per violation, especially if you reach a settlement and you commit to improvements in safety practices. But the true cost of unsafe practices goes beyond the money you send to the federal government. After an enforcement case is settled, it becomes a matter of public record. The general public has access to the details of the case on FMCSA’s website, including the violations and fines you paid. This can be seen by customers, drivers and other employees, and insurers.

Q: How do you Keep Your Insurance Costs Down?

The best way to keep insurance costs down is to become a well-run trucking company. The key to a well-run trucking company is to develop a culture of safety. Maintaining a healthy CSA Score below 50 is one qualification insurance companies look for when determining the risks involved in insuring your trucking company. If your insurance is $20,000 per truck, one bad inspection can mean additional thousands of dollars in insurance premiums per truck! Keep premium risks low.

A: Let Transportation Compliance Service be Your Low-Score Safety Audit Mentors

Let the Managed Services Compliance Specialists at TCS take an active role in ensuring your Safety Management Score remains as low as possible, saving you thousands of dollars each year. 

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