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SMS scores: What are they and how are they calculated?

SMS assesses motor carriers based on 7 Behavior Analysis and Safety Improvement Categories

What’s an SMS score and how am I rated? Is a higher score more desirable?

Reliance Partners Director of Safety Robert Kaferle answers these questions and more as he dives into carrier performance metrics on this episode of WHAT THE TRUCK?!? 

If you’re unsure what an SMS score is, then this is a good place to start.

SMS, or Safety Measurement System, is a workload prioritization tool that the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration uses to identify carriers with potential safety problems for interventions based on their on-road performance and investigation results through its Compliance, Safety, Accountability program.

“The FMCSA, Department of Transportation, insurance companies and brokers use these scores to try to identify how the carrier is performing,” Kaferle said. “So the higher the SMS score, the more violations you have and the worse you’re doing compared to other carriers.”

But how does one earn a bad score in the first place?

Kaferle explained that a number of factors come into play. The SMS assesses each motor carrier based on seven Behavior Analysis and Safety Improvement Categories (BASICs): Unsafe driving, crash indicator, hours-of-service compliance, hazardous materials compliance, vehicle maintenance, controlled substances and alcohol, and drivers’ fitness. 

Kaferle said the unsafe driving and crash indicator BASICs greatly determine your score, so scoring high in these categories will lead to more frequent over-the-road inspections and ultimately more costs. Kaferle said to keep in mind that frequent inspections result in constant stopping and starting that consumes more fuel, accelerates vehicle wear and tear, and diminishes drivers’ productivity.

And you can bet that your SMS score will find its way to your insurance provider, so don’t be surprised if a change in score results in a change in price.

“Insurance is the transfer of risk from a carrier to an insurance company. So if they deem your risk as high by your SMS scores, then you’re going to see higher insurance costs,” Kaferle said.

When it comes to improving your score, Kaferle suggests there’s not much you can do besides strive to do better and wait.

“You can go through the FMCSA’s challenge process, but ultimately the best thing to do is to not get in that situation in the first place, he said.

Kaferle urges anyone struggling with violations and compliance to not be afraid to get help immediately. He recommends visiting FMCSA’s SMS website in addition to speaking with third-party and insurance professionals like himself. 

He lastly advised carriers not to treat their SMS scores like proprietary data but to post them for their drivers to see where their performance stands. Kaferle said to use bad scores to show where improvements are needed but to recognize good scores as well.

“Share it with your drivers, share it with your fleet; as a team you need to bring everybody together to help address those scores,” Kaferle said.

Click for more FreightWaves content by Jack Glenn.

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Jack Glenn

Jack Glenn is a sponsored content writer for FreightWaves and lives in Chattanooga, TN with his golden retriever, Beau. He is a graduate of the University of Georgia's Terry College of Business.