Get ready. It’s about to get technical. This is a short version of the CSA system and how it affects drivers and carriers. Specifically, we’ll look at violations on inspections that affect drivers’ personal records and carriers’ overall CSA scores. 

Why is this important? Rules are rules. Just because an inspection report can’t take away your license doesn’t mean it won’t affect you down the road. And for carriers, the more your drivers get violations from their inspections, the closer you get to a red zone on your CSA scores, the closer, the government will come after you with an audit!

So knowing ahead of time how it works and what violations are better or worse for your record is the way to avoid nasty surprises. Even better, you need to know how to change your record and have a game plan going forward in order to have a healthy growing business. Here at CDL Legal, we can help with both. Just keep reading.

Ready? Here we go. You need to have some basic understanding of the SMS point system. The Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (FMCSA) keeps legal records and sets policy for all commercial drivers and carriers. Their CSA (Compliance, Safety, and Accountability) program keeps track of the records and the SMS (Safety Measurement System) is what they use to give specific points to specific violations. (See here for the full SMS experience.)

SMS points are split into seven types (BASICs or “Behavior Analysis and Safety Improvement Categories). These types are:
Unsafe Driving
Hours-of-Service (HOS) Compliance
Vehicle Maintenance
Controlled Substances/Alcohol
Driver Fitness
Hazardous Materials (HM) Compliance
Crash Indicator

Common Violations you’ll see by category:

Unsafe Driving ~

10-Point Violations
Using a hand-held mobile telephone while operating a CMV – 392.82(a)(1)
State/Local Laws – Speeding 15 or more mph – 392.2-SLLS4
State and Local Laws – Speeding in construction zones – 392.2-SLLSWZ

7-Point Violations
Failing to use a seat belt while operating a CMV – 392.16
State/Local Laws – Speeding 11-14 mph – 392.2-SLLS3

5-Point Violations
Failure to obey a traffic control device – 392.2C
Following too close – 392.2FC
Improper lane change – 392.2LC

4-Point Violations
State/Local Laws – Speeding 6-10 mph – 392.2-SLLS2

Hours of Service ~

10-Point Violations
Operating a CMV while ill or fatigued – 392.3

7-Point Violations
State/Local hours of service (HOS) laws – 392.2H
False report – a record of duty status – 395.8(e)
11-hour rule violation – 395.3A1R
14-hour rule violation – 395.3A2R

5-Point Violations
No record of duty status – 395.8(a)
Record of duty status not current – 395.8(f)(1)

1-Point Violations
ELD not properly recording – 395.26B

Vehicle Maintenance ~

10-Point Violations
Operating an out-of-service vehicle – 396.9(c)(2)

8-Point Violations
Flat tire or fabric exposed – 393.75(a)

6-Point Violations
Inoperative turn signal -393.9TS
Inoperable tail lamp -393.9T

Controlled Substances/Alcohol ~

10-Point Violations
The driver uses or is in possession of drugs—392.4(a)

5-Point Violations
Operating a CMV while under the influence of an intoxicating beverage – 392.5A2-UI

3-Point Violations
The driver having possession of alcohol while on duty, operating, or in physical control of a CMV – 392.5A2-POS

Driver Fitness ~

10-Point Violations
Operating a CMV with a false medical certificate—390.35B-MED

8-Point Violations
The driver operating a CMV without proper endorsements or in violation of restrictions—391.11B5-DEN

4-Point Violations
The driver cannot read or speak the English language sufficiently to respond to official inquiries—391.11(b)(2)

1-Point Violations
Driver not carrying medical certificate – 391.41(a)

Hazardous Materials Compliance ~

10-Point Violations
Failure to meet general package requirements – 173.24(b)
Packaging not authorized by the Hazardous Materials Regulations – 173.24(c)
Package not secure in-vehicle—177.834(a)

8-Point Violations
Tank outlets not marked – 178.245-6(b)
7-Point Violations
Damaged liquid discharge hose – 180.416(g)

4-Point Violations
Fail to possess remote shutoff when unloading – 177.840(s)

Crash Indicator ~

This category works differently from the rest. Instead of points, the FMCSA calculates how many crashes your drivers have been in, how bad they are, how big your fleet is in total, and how much all those trucks are on the road. Their exact math and results aren’t publicly available, but they’ll let you know if your drivers are behaving like bull-riders.

Challenging CSA Points:

So what can you do if you have some points on your record? (click here to look up your record) The FMCSA allows drivers and carriers to submit challenges to their record. If the challenge is approved, then the record gets changed. But you need hard proof that the violation you’re going after shouldn’t be on your record. Maybe you got a ticket with the inspection and the ticket was dismissed in court. Maybe the officer who wrote the inspection didn’t do his job right and the problem he wrote down wasn’t there.

CDL Legal fight tickets in court on behalf of drivers and carriers. When we win in court, it is also a big win for your CSA scores. We obtain the proper court documentation to file a challenge with the FMCSA by using the DataQ system. If the challenge is successful (has the proof), then the points are taken off your record in 30 days. This all thanks to OOIDA, who in 2012 filed a lawsuit against FMCSA. Now, courts require the FMCSA to update CSA violations with court outcomes when a DataQ appeal is filed.

Preventing CSA Points:

Changing points after the violation were received is great, but having a game plan going forward is key to your success. Having a great safety and maintenance program is not just a suggestion anymore. You must have the right safety initiatives in place and driver rewards to get quality behavior out of your drivers. The maintenance on your trucks needs to be up to date, and you should get your drivers involved in this process. During a DOT inspection, the maintenance of your truck will all affect future inspections. If your truck(s) are running the same lanes and have a reputation of having maintenance issues, then plan on more inspections until they start getting cleaned up.

Having the right management tools is also another key factor in your success. CDL Legal has developed online CSA management tools to help you gain better visibility to your SMS data. We show your own data in an easy-to-manage format that provides great visibility to the issues that need cleaning up. We haven’t talked about this side of it yet, but insurance companies have their eye on this whole process. When they see a carrier rack up points, they’ll raise their prices. But when they see that carrier clean up their record with dedicated safety cleanup and DataQ challenges, things turn right around.

Give us a call and let us walk you through how we can help put you on a better path going forward.


(888) 819-4836