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    5 Ways to Manage CSA Scores and Streamline Compliance

    Truck driver checking a clipboard

    Len Marchlewski is a compliance expert with several years of experience in fleet safety. In this article, he shares top tips for maintaining low CSA scores and adhering to DOT compliance standards.

    In this era of ever-evolving technology, video has quickly become a staple in the world of transportation. Many video telematics systems are used for:

    • driver coaching and improvement
    • a first line of defense against unjustified accident and injury claims
    • video evidence of a collision, proof-of-service, customer complaints
    • GPS fleet tracking

    But there’s another application for video telematics that’s fast gaining popularity — managing compliance, safety and accountability, or CSA, scores.

    For interstate carriers regulated by the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (FMCSA), maintaining a good CSA score is absolutely critical. Why? Because many companies, such as major automakers and parts manufacturers in Michigan, will only do business with carriers that maintain an adequate CSA score. The same is true with many government contractors.

    Managing DOT CSA compliance, however, isn’t easy. The sheer volume of inspections, write-ups, and violations can be overwhelming. In my last position as compliance manager for a major carrier in the Midwest, we underwent about 1,000 roadside inspections a year. Each one of them had the potential to torpedo our CSA score.

    Luckily, there’s a tool you can use to get a handle on your CSA score. At one of my previous companies, I implemented Lytx’s video telematics system to track, measure, and manage a number of factors that affected our CSA score. Two years after I began the program, our CSA scores for Unsafe Driving and our Crash Basic had improved significantly.

    This article is a practical guide to using a video telematics platform like Lytx to manage your CSA scores and streamline compliance.



    Let’s start with the basics. The FMCSA organizes a carrier’s safety data into seven Behavior Analysis and Safety Improvement Categories (BASICs): unsafe driving, history of crashes, hours-of-service compliance, vehicle maintenance, controlled substance or alcohol, hazardous materials compliance, and driver fitness. The data is updated once a month, which gives carriers an opportunity to continually assess and improve. If you’re new to the CSA program, check out this easy-to-digest one-page factsheet, published by the FMCSA.

    With CSA scores, lower is better. The more violations you accumulate, the higher your CSA score. If you want to do a deep drive into how these scores are calculated, head over to the FMCSA’s explainer.

    how to lower csa scores

    The SMS groups carriers by BASIC with other carriers that have a similar number of safety events (e.g., crashes, inspections, or violations) and then ranks carriers and assigns a percentile from 0 to 100 (the higher the percentile, the worse the performance) to prioritize them for interventions. Source: CSA Factsheet, U.S. Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration, March 2016.

    Now that you have the BASICs down, let’s move on to some ways you can leverage Lytx to fortify your CSA compliance.


    1. Unsafe Driving Violations

    The broadest step in improving your CSA score is to prevent unsafe driving violations, the first BASIC category. You can streamline this process by setting up your telematics program in ways that align with your CSA compliance strategy. If you have Lytx’s video telematics solutions, for instance, you can choose to receive an email each time there is an event related to unsafe driving indicators that you want to focus on. Prioritize those events for driver coaching.

    Great places to start are:

    all of which carry point penalties that stay on a driver’s record for three years after they’ve been issued. Cell phone use is especially costly because it carries the highest point penalty possible.

    Another tactic is to check event videos for speeding. Often, you’ll catch drivers accelerate to get into a restricted lane (on many freeways, commercial trucks are required to stay in the right two lanes). Driving in a restricted lane is one of the most common reasons police officers will pull a truck over. Once a truck is pulled over, there’s a good chance the officer will inspect the vehicle to see if there are any other violations, such as a cracked windshield or faulty marker light. Now, you’re adding maintenance points on top of unsafe driving points. Coaching drivers to stay within the speed limit and remain within their required lanes are two direct ways fleets can quickly and significantly improve their CSA scores.

    Review of events and subsequent coaching sessions will heighten awareness among drivers, as well as management and staff, of the types of risky driving behaviors that are prevalent. Short run “pushes” of awareness for certain violations among the drivers can help bring awareness and reduce the number of those violations that occur.

    These short-term, highly focused pushes can be quite effective. At Martin Transportation Systems, where I previously worked, we reduced our collision-related costs by up to 80 percent, and I firmly believe that our success was based in part by driving awareness of habits that create risk. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve heard a driver review an incident and say, “Wow, I never knew that I did that!”


    2. Reduce collisions by examining close calls

    Drivers from every industry experience close calls on a daily basis. Some are minor, but some could have been a major event if it were not for the drivers’ diligence. On the Lytx platform, many close calls are captured and marked as “near collisions” and are tagged as either being avoidable, meaning the driver could have done something to have prevented the situation from happening, or unavoidable, where there was nothing that the driver could have done.

    Reviewing these close calls with the driver and getting their take on the incident are two important steps to reducing collisions. For near collisions that were avoidable, you can ask the driver what they could have done. This is a good opportunity to talk about techniques for leaving an out, building safe following distance, or mirror use as ways to anticipate and head off trouble.

    For unavoidable near collisions, the driver has often shown diligence in the form of proper defensive driving techniques. In that case, acknowledge their diligence, and consider publicly sharing and recognizing their efforts as a way to encourage other drivers to become safer drivers. 


    3. Monitor distracted and drowsy driving

    Simply put, these two behaviors are major causes of accidents. Identifying these behaviors and working to alter a driver’s behavior before a collision happens will not only help your CSA score, but will help prevent injury or even death.

    When it comes to distracted driving, having a clear policy on cell phone or device use can go a long way in reinforcing your campaign to stop this particularly risky behavior. You can use Lytx’s Driver Safety Program to flag and prioritize instances of handheld cell phone use or other distractions such as eating and drinking.

    Lytx can also be used to uncover instances of drowsy driving. The best way to approach this is to identify why the driver was drowsy. Was the driver on a night run that doesn’t suit him or her? Did the driver simply not get enough rest prior to their shift that day? Do they suffer from sleep apnea and need to get treatment? Do they need to get more exercise?

    Adjustments made to accommodate a driver having difficulty with their shift not only benefits the driver, but also the company, especially if it helps protect the driver and prevent a costly accident.


    4. Use coaching to improve behaviors that affect your CSA score

    In my experience, coaching is the most effective way to reduce the kinds of unsafe driving behaviors that can affect your CSA score. But it can also be a tricky undertaking.

    When sitting down with a driver for a coaching session, many factors need to be taken into consideration in order to ensure a positive outcome. “Totality of Circumstances” would be the best way to describe this approach – looking at, and understanding, the experience and skillset of the driver, the length of their driving history, as well as their previous safety record are key points to consider before embarking on any coaching session.

    During a coaching session, drivers should never be approached with a hostile or negative attitude that can make them feel degraded, uncomfortable, or in trouble. Instead, focus on the positive aspects of improving their professional skills. Just like game footage in pro sports, video telematics can be used to help drivers mold their actions and reactions to situations out on the road and improve their ability to perform on the road.


    5. Recognize diligent compliance to CSA standards

    Compliance can be seen as a burden for drivers. You can change this by making diligence in compliance a point of pride.

    Set specific goals for improving your CSA score and measurement categories, such as Unsafe Driving or Crashes. You can recognize individuals for making improvements in various risky behaviors that contribute to Unsafe Driving. You can also reward groups or drivers, either by team or by terminal, for hitting targets. Nothing will boost morale more than recognition, especially if it’s done in front of their peers.

    Reinforce your recognition program during coaching sessions. Reviewing an event that shows your driver staying calm and having the right reaction to a situation on the road that prevents an accident, and then recognizing that driver in front of their peers sends a huge, positive message to the entire driver pool. A small token of appreciation – certificate of safe driving, ball cap, recognition pin, special safety vest – can go a long way with that driver but can also motivate other drivers to reach that level of achievement as well. There is nothing wrong with a little peer pressure geared toward great performance and compliance in the workplace.

    The ideas outlined here are just stepping stones for using video telematics to manage CSA scores. Awareness not only by the drivers, but also by management and staff, is key to reducing CSA scores and also in streamlining driver compliance in broad areas that influence scores such as unsafe driving and collisions. By “rallying the troops” around awareness of issues like distracted driving and other bad habits behind the wheel, you will see a decrease in preventable accidents, DOT law violations, and the costs associated with those. 


    About Len Marchlewski

    Len is the director of safety for Equity Transportation Co., based in Walker, Michigan. Prior to joining Equity, he helped build a 24/7 compliance department for Martin Transportation Systems Inc., where he oversaw a crew of six compliance coordinators and managed compliance for the company’s fleet of 1,500 trucks and 1,800 drivers across the U.S. and Canada between 2012 and 2018. Len also worked as an operations manager for DHL Express and Assistant E-911 Director and Deputy for Alpena County (Michigan) Sheriff’s Department, where he helped implement the county’s E-911 central dispatch system in 2004.


    Interested in using video telematics and fleet compliance services? Check out Lytx's DOT Compliance solutions and talk with an expert to see how they can help your fleet.