How to Improve Your CSA Score

  • truck driver at safety inspection stop

As companies and drivers compete for the best jobs on the road, maintaining an excellent CSA score is of the utmost importance. By understanding the mechanics of maintaining and improving CSA scores, drivers and trucking managers will know what to look for to stay compliant, safe, and accountable.

Use the tools presented on the FMCSA’s website and implement the proper incentives to drivers. All it takes is the right strategy, proper incentives, and time to put a driver back on the right course.

What is a CSA score?

The CSA score as we know it launched in December 2010 to encourage safer driving.(1) Scores land somewhere between 0 and 100 and reflect –that ranks a company or driver’s compliance, safety and accountability. Violations in the past 24 months are considered. The lower the score the better, and each month, a driver’s profile is updated with any relevant violations in these CSA score categories:

  • Unsafe driving: Prioritized interventions for repeated dangerous behaviors, such as texting, speeding or reckless driving.
  • Crash indicator: Identifies patterns of high crash involvement and the contributing behaviors.
  • Hours-of-service compliance: Addresses requirements to ensure drivers are awake, alert and able to respond quickly.
  • Vehicle maintenance: Considers proper vehicle maintenance to ensure safety on the road, including pre- and post-trip inspections, vehicle defects and repairs.
  • Controlled substance and alcohol: Addresses misuse of alcohol, illegal drugs and over-the-counter prescription medications.
  • Hazardous material compliance: Includes regulations that require special attention for dangerous materials, such as proper packaging, understanding regulations for tank specification testing, etc.
  • Driver fitness: Addresses driving records, including commercial drivers’ licenses (CDLs), medical certificates, annual reviews, state driving records, etc.


What Can the CSA Score Impact?

A CSA score can impact both drivers and businesses in several different ways. A high CSA score can affect whether an employer will hire a driver or if a shipper will choose to employ a trucking company. It can affect expenses because it determines how high or low your insurance premiums will be. It can also make it more difficult to meet deadlines, because drivers with a high CSA score will find themselves subjected to more compliance checks throughout their travels.

What is a good CSA score? Ask 15 different companies or truck drivers and you’ll get 16 different answers. It’s a difficult measurement to quantify, but there is one thing they all agree on: the lower the score is, the better. A lower score means fewer violations, safer drivers, and a better company reputation overall.

The Safety Measurement System - SMS

With the FMCSA’s Safety Measurement System,(2) it’s easy to know the score of any company and driver. Safer Web and the FMCSA offer a free database that provides access to CSA data on any company with a DOT number. In the database, you can view a company’s track record for the previous 24 months by accessing a variety of metrics. (2)

Reducing a CSA score takes time, but the more inspections a driver has that are violation free, the better (lower) the score becomes. Use the tips below to learn how to improve your CSA score and the FMCSA help center for more information and printable handouts for over-the-road support.

(1) Use a reliable ELD

If a driver enters a “dead zone” and loses cellular connection, some ELDs may lose the data permanently. If this is the case, that driver’s logs are inaccurate and could result in an hours-of-service violation.

Electronic logging devices tell a fleet manager where a truck is, how the driver is driving, and provide estimated arrival times to promote a solid customer service experience and much more. However, an ELD that inaccurately reports or slowly reports back the corresponding web portal create vulnerable situations that can result in a higher CSA score.

(2) Hire the best drivers available

With the driver shortage, hiring drivers and keeping them is difficult for companies with lower-than-normal budgets. Hiring based on experience and FMCSA CSA scores can help find good, violation-free drivers, but these folks will come with a higher price. If you’re in that predicament and don’t have the budget, you may need to look at newer drivers – but will have to provide plenty of support and training.

Larger trucking companies may find it easier to take on the task of training new drivers and the risk of newbie mistakes. Smaller companies must adopt a plan of action to find the best drivers, and use a prescreening process, like the FMCSA’s PSP form.

To improve the odds of hiring quality candidates, do thorough background checks and check the drivers’ DOT or MC Number in the SMS system before allowing them to drive. Their CSA scores could be an indicator that they have a proclivity for violations.

(3) Insist upon thorough DVIRs

Violations due to vehicle maintenance and poorly packed trailers are preventable with careful DVIR inspections from drivers and warehouse personnel. Insisting that drivers perform thorough DVIRs is not just federally mandated, but extremely important to a CSA score.

A thorough DVIR identifies malfunctioning truck signals, lighting issues, tires with low tread are easily identifiable with a proper inspection. The violation severity of vehicle maintenance issues range from minor to major.

(4) Beware of ABS braking inspections

During the week of September 16-22, 2018, 57 jurisdictions in the United States and Canada hold  Brake Safety Week inspections.(3) During that week, they found the 14.1% inspections (4,955 trucks) had “critical vehicle inspection items.” Law enforcement placed those vehicles on suspension until the item was corrected.

(5) Eliminate aggressive driving

Some of the severely weighted violations are related to driving aggressively. Just like hard braking, modern ELDs monitor the speed of a truck. If the driver is pressed for time, he or she might be inclined to drive faster than normal. Speeding not only wastes fuel, but also put others in danger and that is an automatic violation.

(6) Avoid medical violations

What is the penalty for driving-while-ill? It’s the same as texting-while-driving and driving under-the-influence of narcotics.(4)  Don’t let drivers drive while ill.

Sick-while-driving violations receive a penalty of 10 points. This penalty points out that alertness and the overall  health of the driver are the most important metrics for drivers, and why the ELD mandate requires breaks and mandatory rest periods.

These medical violations may seem harsh, but given the dangers of driving at high speeds, it’s vital for drivers to be in the best shape possible to stay alert.

(7) Stay updated on regulation changes

They say that ignorance of the law is no excuse when you’re charged with a crime, and that goes double for trucking regulations, many of which change drastically every year. Falling behind on these updates could increase a driver’s CSA score, even if it’s not done intentionally.

The severity of violations changes every year, so staying up to date is more important than ever to maintain a low CSA score. It’s up to every driver to stay current, and it’s the responsibility of the trucking company to make sure drivers are knowledgeable about each change. A driver’s reputation is the company’s reputation.

(8) Update MCS-150 carrier registration

The MCS-150 carrier registration, Motor Carrier Identification Report is simply a form that connects a USDOT number to a particular carrier.

Every time a company’s profile changes it’s a good idea to visit the MCS-150 and update registration. The FMCSA also requires every company and driver to update their profile every two years by regulation.(5) Some states may even require an annual update beyond the biennial update required by the FMCSA. Make sure you check with your local department of transportation to ensure you’re in compliance with local, state and federal laws. An ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure, and in this case, learning how to check your CSA score is one of the most valuable tools in your arsenal.

(9) Use the free FMCSA resources to educate drivers

Driver fact sheet and violation severity weight sheet are two tools that every driver should study and keep handy. For your own due diligence, download and print violation severity document, and notice how often the severity changes from year to year.

The downloaded report will contain a tab of the changes made each year, so at the very least keep a record of any severity changes that pertain. The FMCSA maintains a library of free resources for drivers and employers alike, from the No Texting Rule Fact Sheet to step-by-step details for getting started with driver and vehicle registration. These resources can be invaluable, so keep them at your fingertips and ensure everyone is aware of them.

(10) Inspire a culture of “Safety First”

It’s important for companies to meet customer expectations to stay competitive, but it’s more important to create a culture of drivers that say “yes” to safe driving. One way to promote a safety-first culture is to create the right incentives, properly discipline when violations occur, and add bonus structures that entice drivers to put their CSA score as the highest priority.

Relying upon the latest technology can help the bottom line, but reducing CSA scores may require a change of company policy. For more information about the importance of maintaining a low CSA score in 2019, please consult the FMCSA’s free sources and the Rand McNally blog for continuous updates on the fleet industry.

Reducing a CSA score takes time and effort. Rand McNally's full suite of fleet management solutions - from ELDs to driver analytics software - can help. To see how Rand McNally's fleet management solutions can help you improve your safety program and CSA score, contact us today.



  1. The CSA 2010 Dispatch. Retrieved from https://csa.fmcsa.dot.gov/Documents/CSA2010_Dispatch_102010.pdf
  2. Help Center, 2018. Retrieved from https://ai.fmcsa.dot.gov/SMS/HelpCenter/Index.aspx
  3. Nearly 5,000 Commercial Motor Vehicles with Critical Brake Violations from Roadways during Brake Safety Week, 2018. Retrieved from https://cvsa.org/news-entry/2018-brake-safety-week-results/
  4. SMS Appendix A spreadsheet – FMCSA – CSA, 2018. Retrieved from https://csa.fmcsa.dot.gov/Documents/SMS_AppendixA_ViolationsList.xlsx
  5. What can a motor carrier do to improve? 2018. Retrieved from https://ai.fmcsa.dot.gov/SMS/HelpCenter/Index.aspx#faq30905
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