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What is FMCSA?

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The Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration is a division of the United States Department of Transportation, and commercial motor carriers are required to comply with FMCSA regulations as part of a broader DOT compliance obligation.


The FMCSA is the DOT department entrusted with developing safety standards for commercial motor vehicle operators and keeping records on their safety performance according to those parameters. It is an integral part of GPS fleet tracking.

This led to the creation of the FMCSA’s Safety Management System, or SMS. It evaluates a commercial motor carrier based on CSA (compliance, safety and accountability) criteria, and produces an SMS/CSA score. This acts as a report card — a measurement of the carrier’s safety compliance, and a rating that reveals where it stands in relation to other businesses that are similar in size and operation.

The FMCSA mission is stated on the agency’s homepage:

FMCSA is promoting safety compliance to help keep our Nation’s roadways safer for everyone. Lives — and livelihoods — depend on it.

The BASICs of Safety

An SMS/CSA score is derived from a set of guidelines known as BASICs: Behavior Analysis and Safety Improvement Categories. There are seven categories in all, as follows:

  • Unsafe driving — violations such as speeding, improper lane change, inattention.
  • Fatigued driving — evaluated using driver hours of service (HOS) records that are usually recorded on an electronic logging device (ELD), because an excessive number of hours behind the wheel is considered evidence of fatigue.
  • Driver fitness — which covers training, medical issues, licensing and certifications.
  • Controlled substances/alcohol — which may require drug testing.
  • Vehicle maintenance — examples of violations include mechanical defects or improper loading.
  • Hazardous materials compliance — covers the regulations on safe handling and proper documentation for these materials.
  • Crash indicator — a history or pattern of high crash involvement in accidents, with more weight given to recent incidents than past events.

What the Scores Mean

An SMS/CSA score is expressed as a number for each of these categories. A high number indicates a greater risk of accident. The numbers are combined to produce an overall SMS/CSA score, and recent events are weighted more heavily (a calendar-based scale decreases the numerical value of individual incidents over time).

The FMCSA offers statistical evidence that SMS/CSA scores are a valid indication of a commercial motor carrier’s safety risk.

Industry Comparison

To ensure a fair assessment of safety performance, the FMCSA places commercial motor carriers in groups, based on size and number of inspections. Each company receives a percentile rating relative to how their BASIC measurements compare to others in the group.

Some parts of the BASIC score are made public, so that carriers can assess their performance against their competition and consider areas where improvement is indicated. Other aspects of the ranking (the cargo-related and crash indicator categories) are shielded from disclosure.

Corrective Action

If an SMS/CSA score indicates deficiencies in one or more areas, at its discretion the FMCSA can contact the commercial motor carrier and recommend or require corrective measures. These interventions may take the form of anything from a warning letter to an onsite investigation.


After the SMS/CSA program was implemented a follow-up study examined its ability to improve safety among the organizations that fall under its purview. The study focused on commercial motor vehicle carriers that had received notice of required correction.

To learn more about BASIC scoring, visit