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CSA scores and their impact on carrier insurance costs

Roadside inspections feed data into the CSA BASICs system, which can influence decisions insurers make on how much to charge carriers.

Insurers look at CSA BASICs, so working to lower those scores could lead to lower premiums

Recently, there were a couple of Facebook posts from owner-operators asking for advice on where to look for new insurance. One poster said their insurance company was dropping them because their “maintenance scores” were too high. What, they asked, did that mean?

Since 2010, the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration has been compiling data and publishing it as part of Compliance, Safety, Accountability (CSA) BASICs. The collection of the data, which comes through the agency’s Safety Management System (SMS) is not new, what was new was the publishing of it through the CSA program.

What are BASICs? FMCSA’s CSA program utilizes seven categories to prioritize carriers for possible interventions. Those categories are: Unsafe Driving, Crash Indicator, Hours-of-Service Compliance, Vehicle Maintenance, Controlled Substances/Alcohol, Hazardous Materials Compliance, and Driver Fitness. Data collected through roadside inspections, crash reports, investigations and other violations from the previous 12 months are used to populate the BASIC categories, ranking carriers in each category on a percentile scale of 0 to 100. The higher the number, the worst the score.

If you have poor BASIC scores, your carrier is at risk of being investigated by FMCSA as an unsafe carrier. Many shippers also regularly review a carrier’s BASIC scores and some won’t give business to carriers with elevated totals. Insurance companies also will review BASIC scores as part of their evaluation of a carrier’s overall fitness and risk profile. Higher CSA scores can lead to higher premiums, deductibles, or even denial of coverage.

The Vehicle Maintenance BASIC typically covers “failure to properly maintain a CMV.” According to Carrier411, for most carriers, a score over 80 would be considered problematic. There are over 200 items contained within the Vehicle Maintenance BASIC. A full list, along with their assigned point values, can be found here:

In general, though, this particular BASIC would include violations such as brakes, lights, mechanical defects, and failure to make required repairs.

Insurers will pay close attention to the Unsafe Driver, Crash Indicator and Hours-of-Service Compliance BASIC, but as the Facebook posted found out, they also pay attention to the Vehicle Maintenance BASIC.

A high FMCSA percentile ranking in this BASIC could be an indication of a company or driver that does not take care of their equipment or is running equipment that is older and in poor shape. In both cases, FMCSA believes this correlates to a higher risk of a crash, and whether that is true or not (it’s been debated since the introduction of CSA), it’s something that will influence insurance premiums.

So, how can you lower your BASIC scores, particularly the Vehicle Maintenance BASIC?

It starts with a strong, consistent Pre-Trip Inspection. “Vehicle maintenance violations make a big dent in CSA scores, and new criteria for keeping a truck in service can be difficult to keep up with. Thorough Pre-Trip inspections with particular emphasis on vehicle maintenance issues drivers tend to overlook are the most critical factor in preventing these violations,” explained a blog posting from Keep Truckin on CSA scores.

Broken and inoperable lights are the easiest violation for inspectors to spot, and in 2014, they comprised 28% of Vehicle Maintenance violations. Tires accounted for another 11%, Keep Truckin wrote. Brakes are another common problem area. A surprise one-day brake enforcement inspection by the Commercial Vehicle Safety Alliance on Sept. 7, 2017, resulted in 14% of commercial vehicles in the U.S. and Canada being placed out of service for brake violations.

It has been suggested that it requires 20 clean inspections to offset one bad inspection.

GTG Technology Group recommends carriers educate their drivers on proper procedures, including what is expected of them during vehicle checks; hone in on the top violations as some violations carry more weight than others; and take action to fix problems. “While head knowledge is great, it’s useless without action. Determine which areas of your company are concerning and implement written procedures,” the company advises.

Most importantly, reducing violations is really a company culture issue. Companies that place a priority on proper procedures, on fixing issues quickly, and on following regulations tend to have lower scores.

Fleet software management provider Telogis produced a white paper that detailed seven steps any fleet can take to reduce their CSA score. They are:

  1. Verify your inspection data. Inspection data is available online at If the information is incorrect, carriers have the right to challenge that information. You have 2 years to challenge inspection data, Telogis said.
  2. Establish management controls. This includes defining roles for safety-related personnel and setting clear policies to follow.
  3. Hire good drivers. Telogis advised setting high standards for drivers and to follow the rule of thumb: “past behavior is a strong predictor of future behavior.”
  4. Dispatch within limits. There are hours-of-service limits that must be followed, and with ELDs, it’s become more difficult to cheat the system, so ensure you are dispatching drivers with the proper time to make their destination. Drivers in a rush are more likely to speed, to skip or take shortcuts on proper pre-trip inspections, or cause an accident.
  5. Maintain your vehicles. It starts with a proper Pre-Trip inspection, but also includes strong preventive maintenance programs.
  6. Train your team to comply with HazMat regulations. For fleets that transport hazardous materials, there are specific violations and drivers need to be thoroughly trained on complying with the regulations.
  7. Have an effective safety committee. Even small carriers can create a safety committee. The committee would be responsible for setting safety policies and educating employees on them. The committee would also review any accidents to determine if the accident could have been prevented and what steps can be taken to try and prevent a future incident.

Certainly there are plenty of carriers and/or owner-operators with high CSA scores that are properly insured. But when reviewing a total cost of operation matrix, those higher CSA scores may actually be costing that carrier more in the long run. Shippers are less likely to contract with it, insurance rates are higher, and there tends to be more driver turnover.

Insurers like Reliance Partners that specialize in commercial insurance can help carriers, even those with high CSA scores, find an insurance policy that fits their operation, but lower scores can make that process easier and far less expensive.

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Brian Straight

Brian Straight leads FreightWaves' Modern Shipper brand as Managing Editor. A journalism graduate of the University of Rhode Island, he has covered everything from a presidential election, to professional sports and Little League baseball, and for more than 10 years has covered trucking and logistics. Before joining FreightWaves, he was previously responsible for the editorial quality and production of Fleet Owner magazine and Brian lives in Connecticut with his wife and two kids and spends his time coaching his son’s baseball team, golfing with his daughter, and pursuing his never-ending quest to become a professional bowler. You can reach him at [email protected]