FMCSA Essentials: Compliance, Safety, Accountability

The Compliance, Safety, Accountability (CSA) program is the cornerstone of the compliance and enforcement efforts of the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (FMCSA). CSA collects data on carriers’ safety performance nationwide and targets the FMCSA’s enforcement intervention resources at the most noncompliant and unsafe companies.

Rather than rely on FMCSA’s team or law enforcement partners to track millions of CMV companies and commercial driver license holders, the scientific CSA model allows the FMCSA to use data from state partners across the country and correct issues before they cause crashes and cost lives.

What are the components of CSA?

CSA is made up of three parts:

  1. Measurement. CSA uses inspection and crash data to identify high-risk carriers.
  2. Evaluation. CSA contacts a large number of high-risk carriers and drivers with customized information and an updated Safety Fitness Determination methodology.
  3. Intervention. CSA aims to increase the efficiency and effectiveness of enforcement officers’ interventions, including warning letters, roadside inspections, and investigations.

How does the CSA measure safety?

Until 2010, FMCSA relied on a data-driven analysis system called SafeStat. While SafeStat successfully identified carriers at risk for crashes, it proved to be too simplistic. Additionally, it did not focus on behaviors of CMV drivers, which the FMCSA Large Truck Crash Causation Study showed needed serious attention. Today the FMCSA uses the Safety Measurement System (SMS), its new “workload prioritization tool.” ¹

The tool continues to undergo improvements. In September 2015, the Safety Measurement System (SMS) Methodology was updated to reflect stakeholders’ suggestions.

How does the SMS work?

The SMS incorporates motor carrier data from safety-based violations, State-reported crashes, and the Federal motor carrier census to evaluate motor carrier performance in safety metrics. It turns this data into quantifiable performance ratings that can helps identify which carriers should be prioritized for interventions, specify the exact issues of a carrier or driver, and track the improvement or decline of safety issues. The SMS makes motor carriers’ CSA safety and performance data available online, so that the carrier and other interested parties can look up the information themselves.

The SMS categorizes data into seven Behavior Analysis and Safety Improvement Categories (BASICs), whose usefulness has been demonstrated by multiple studies: ²

  1. Unsafe Driving (Factsheet). Examples include speeding, reckless driving, improper lane change, and inattention.
  2. Crash Indicator (Factsheet).
  3. Hours-of-Service Compliance (Factsheet). Examples include operating a CMV while ill or fatigued.
  4. Vehicle Maintenance (Factsheet). Examples include mechanical defects, failure to make required repairs, and improper load securement.
  5. Controlled Substances/Alcohol (Factsheet). Examples include possession or consumption of alcohol.
  6. Hazardous Materials Compliance (Factsheet). Examples include release of hazardous materials from package and lacking placards/markings when required.
  7. Driver Fitness (Factsheet). Examples include lacking a valid and appropriate commercial driver’s license (CDL) and being medically unqualified to operate a CMV.

In a 100-page appendix to the Safety Measurement System (SMS) Methodology document, you can find all the violations used in the SMS, along with the corresponding Federal Motor Carrier Safety Regulations (FMCSRs) or Hazardous Materials Regulations (HMRs) section. The appendix also includes a numerical violation severity weight. Texting, calling, reckless driving, and operating a CMV while fatigued earn the maximum violation severity weight (10), while infractions like unlawful parking or leaving a parked truck unlocked have the lowest violation severity weight (1).

A second appendix outlines all the changes made to the SMS over time, including two violations added to the Dangerous Driving category of the SMS with a severity weight of 5: inattentive driving and failure to maintain lane.

Where can I get more information?

The FMCSA hosts a dedicated webpage just for CSA. Here you can find FAQs, news, motor carrier safety and performance data, and resources like toolkits specifically for motor carriers, drivers, state partners, and other stakeholders.





Aquila, Brett. “CSA – Compliance, Safety, and Accountability Program.” Nov 11 2015.

Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration. “CSA.”

Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration & CSA. “Safety Measurement System (SMS) Methodology.” September 2015.

Wikipedia. “Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration.” June 9 2015.



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