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CSA and drivers

This story appears in the 2011 MATS digital directory.

After several years of anxious waiting, the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (FMCSA) formally unveiled its Compliance, Safety, Accountability program on Dec. 12, 2010. Known by most as CSA, the program monitors carriers, ranking them on criteria FMCSA calls BASICs (Behavior Analysis Safety Improvement Categories). Carriers, though, are not the only ones that need to be concerned.

“It’s had much more far-reaching effects than we could ever have anticipated,” says Randy Marten, chairman & CEO of Marten Transport. “They estimated that between 10 to 12% of the drivers would go away as a result of CSA, but I think that number will be much higher.”

Carriers with poor CSA scores could face a number of problems, including intervention from FMCSA and, just as importantly, a loss of business as shippers choose to contract with only those carriers that maintain the highest safety ratings. Because of this, some carriers are taking a strict approach to drivers, up to and including termination, who operate their trucks in an unsafe manner.

According to FMCSA, CSA is all about improving highway safety. The Agency uses the BASICs to rank each carrier. Each violation carries a severity weighting that is used to compile the final score. Higher scores indicate an increased likelihood of a crash, according to FMCSA, and action ranging from a warning letter to a full-blown inspection follows.

FMCSA uses the Safety Measurement System (SMS), which is comprised of the Carrier Safety Measurement System (CSMS) and the Driver Safety Measurement System (DSMS) to calculate the carrier’s CSA score. Under the DSMS, a driver’s roadside performance data is monitored for 36 months at a time – regardless of employer, meaning that poor drivers can no longer just skip to another carrier. Recent violations are weighted more heavily than older violations.

The BASICs used by FMCSA are unsafe driving, fatigued driving (hours-of-service), driver fitness, driving under the influence of controlled substances and alcohol, vehicle maintenance, cargo-securement, and crash indicator.

When hiring a driver, carriers will be able to check the new pre-employment screening program (PSP), which assesses an individual operator’s crash and safety violation history. Drivers, too, can check the PSP so they are aware of what is in their records. The cost is $10. Drivers also have to give written permission before a carrier can pull their records. Electronic profiles contain five years of crash data and three years of inspection data. To access PSP, visit

Drivers can also check a fleet’s CSA score prior to hiring on to ensure they will be working with a carrier that is serious about safety.

Drivers can take steps to improve their own scores by eliminating poor driving habits such as speeding. Performing a good pretrip inspection is another way to avoid the glare of an inspector. And, most importantly, follow hours-of-service (HOS) rules and properly fill out a log.

Carriers themselves can do a lot to ensure drivers stay in compliance - and in the fold. Equipping trucks with technologies to assist a driver can go a long way to creating safe and happy drivers. Electronic onboard recorders, collision-avoidance systems, lane-departure warning systems, rear-object detection systems, and tire-pressure monitoring systems are just a few of the technologies available. Even simple technologies such as quality seats that mitigate fatigue can make a difference.

Most of the fleets that tested CSA say that communication is the real key to getting drivers to buy into the program.

Jet Express, a Midwestern truckload carrier, trained everyone – from drivers to administrators – on CSA, and saw a 19% drop in CSA points for its drivers with the most violations as a result. But more importantly, Jet “got a tremendous number of ideas and suggestions from everyone on how to solve CSA issues,” says Jeff Davis, vice president of safety and human resources.

In the end, doing all the little things right will add up to a good CSA score. “We’ve always placed an emphasis on the importance of good pretrip inspections, on avoiding behavior on the road that draws the attention of inspectors, and just the basics of safely operating a commercial vehicle,” says Sheldon Cote, safety director for Maine-based Pottle’s Transportation. “These are things our drivers have been doing all along. We’ve told them that if they’re doing what they should be doing, everything will take care of itself with CSA.”

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