September 10, 2020

Squelch high CSA scores to broaden your insurance options


Sometimes it’s best not to be in the upper percentile. That is certainly the case for Compliance, Safety, Accountability (CSA) BASICs scores. Not only do the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (FMCSA) and curious shippers regularly view this information, but these scores also play a major role in determining whether or not a motor carrier or owner-operator will be classified as a high risk to insurers.

Insurance rates are on the rise thanks to factors such as distracted driving and substance abuse, which can ultimately lead to truck accident fatalities and costly “nuclear verdicts.” While it’s true that these events have contributed to increased rates for truckers across the board, drivers with a poor record on a number of benchmarks have themselves to blame for high premiums.

Joe Schreiner, Reliance Partners’ senior vice president of sales, urges truckers looking for lower premiums to focus internally, beginning with cleaning up their CSA scores.

“The reason why insurance companies charge such high premiums, especially for the ones that have two or three CSA score alerts, is because an attorney would have a field day with that trucker in court,” Schreiner said.

FMCSA’s CSA program is designed to hold motor carriers and independent drivers accountable for their actions behind the wheel. The program’s Safety Measurement System (SMS) collects and categorizes safety data into seven Behavior Analysis and Safety Improvement Categories (BASICs). Those categories include Unsafe Driving, Crash Indicator, Hours-of-Service Compliance, Vehicle Maintenance, Controlled Substances/Alcohol, Hazardous Materials Compliance and Driver Fitness.

Carriers and drivers are scored by the number of BASIC safety event violations tallied, such as crashes, inspections or violations, and are grouped with other carriers with similar results. The SMS then assigns a percentile ranking from 0 to 100 to prioritize them for interventions. Poorer performances result in higher scores.

Scoring a high BASIC score may subject you to an FMCSA investigation and a reputation as an unsafe carrier, but what effect does it have on your insurance policies? A significant one. Poor performance ratings can lead to higher premiums and deductibles, or even denial of coverage altogether.

“Elevated CSA scores limit the markets available to you,” Schreiner said. “Because of the current insurance landscape, it’s going to take some of my customers a couple of years to move out of the high-risk market because of bad accidents they’ve experienced.”

Schreiner explained that cleaning up a CSA score can take anywhere from a couple of months to a couple of years depending on the accountability of each customer. He’s seen distressed carriers redeem themselves in as little as a month and qualify for standard insurance markets by staying on a straight and narrow path.

For motor carriers and owner-operators struggling to achieve lower CSA scores, Schreiner recommends reaching out to Reliance Partners to learn more about the rules and regulations affecting your rates. He suggested that seeking guidance from a trusted safety consultant sooner rather than later can potentially keep you out of the high-risk bracket in the first place.

“Don’t wait until the last minute to start working on your policy renewal,” Schreiner said. “Make sure to work with an agent that understands CSA scores and knows how to use DataQs.”

Schreiner also advises carriers to thoroughly ensure that each of their drivers is safe behind the wheel. This includes perhaps rethinking hiring standards, too; he warns against giving just anybody the keys to a truck.

“Truckers deemed a high risk are doing this to themselves for the most part because they do not follow the HOS (hours-of-service) guidelines in addition to their unsafe driving and poor maintenance of their trucks,” Schreiner said. “However, there are many that find themselves in a couple of bad accidents that unfortunately put them in a high-risk market.”

While it is possible for a motor carrier or independent driver to operate and remain properly insured with a high CSA score, the costs could add up down the road. Higher scores lead to expensive insurance rates, persuade shippers to forego contracting with your company, and tend to encourage more driver turnover.