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What are CSA Scores and ISS Scores and How Do They Affect Me?

February 22nd, 2023

Kelli Bloom

Kelli Bloom

Kelli has been in the trucking industry since 2003. She got her start working in compliance for a trucking carrier that specialized in government freight. She has been the compliance manager with ATS since 2017.

Listen, no driver wants to get a violation that’ll end up on their pre-employment screening (PSP) report. It stays on your record for years and can impact the trucking companies that’ll hire you. The violations come with Compliance, Safety and Accountability (CSA) points too.

No trucking company you’re driving for wants you to get those points either. Do you know why? The points that drivers get from violations transfer to the carrier they’re driving for. 

High carrier CSA scores affect the freight the carrier can secure and the prices they can get for that freight. In turn, that affects you, the driver, again. 

It’s in everyone’s best interest to follow best practices for avoiding violations during roadside inspections and otherwise. 

As the compliance manager at Anderson Trucking Service (ATS), I regularly monitor our CSA score and ensure our drivers are aware of safety best practices. 

In this article, I’ll remind you what a CSA score is, but you’ll also learn: 

  • What an ISS score is
  • How a driver’s CSA violations affect the carrier they’re driving for 
  • How a carrier’s high CSA score affects you, the driver

Young bearded truck driver in sunglasses inside the cab of his truck.

What is a CSA Score?

It’s always great to have a refresher on what a CSA score is. CSA scores aim to improve highway safety by marrying motor carrier and driver compliance safety standards. The scores are regulated by the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (FMCSA). 

Drivers can receive a violation in seven Driver Fitness Behavior Analysis and Safety Improvement Categories (BASIC). They include: 

  1. Unsafe (Example: Unsafe driving practices like driving without a seatbelt, using your phone while driving, driving in unauthorized lanes)
  2. Vehicle Maintenance (Example: Maintenance issues, such as unfixed problems with your brakes, tires and lights)
  3. Hours of Service (Example: Failing to follow HOS regulations)
  4. Driver Fitness (Example: Carrying an expired license or medical card)
  5. Drugs and Alcohol (Example: Possessing drugs or alcohol)
  6. Hazmat (Example: Failing to follow hazmat regulations)
  7. Crash (Example: Any recordable crash)

You can get points in each of these categories at roadside inspections (often at weigh stations) or after a crash. When you get a violation, you’re assigned a code. The code aligns with one of the seven categories. 

Every violation is associated with a different points value, but how long it stays on your record as a driver is universal. Your points value triples the year following the incident. In the second year, it doubles. In the third year, it’s taken at face value and then it drops from your record. For instance, if you get a violation with three points, your record would show nine, six and then three points in the three years following the violation. 

Your points also affect the carrier you drive for, which means every driver on the fleet has an impact on the carrier’s CSA score. 

For the carrier, each violation a driver gets will triple in the first six months following a violation, in the next six months it’ll double and in the final year, it’ll be taken at face value. 

Related: For a more in-depth explanation of CSA scores and points, visit my article about it here.

From CSA Scores to ISS Scores

The CSA violations drivers receive go toward the carrier’s score. All points earned during inspections for every driver in the fleet are combined. To obtain the final CSA score, CSA scores are compared against other carriers of similar size and a similar number of inspections. 

For instance, a mom-and-pop carrier’s CSA score won’t be compared to a mega-carrier’s score. There will be far more roadside inspections for a mega-carrier because their fleets are huge. Therefore, it wouldn’t make sense to weigh the carriers’ scores against each other. 

An average of the scores in all seven categories contributes to the overall CSA score, but you can be in alert status for certain categories, such as maintenance. Alert status means the score is high and over the CSA threshold for the BASIC category.

Carrier CSA scores are released each month. The period of measurement ends on the last Friday of the month. The following week the scores are processed. The Monday following the processing week, the scores are released. 

What is an ISS Score?

The Inspection Selection System (ISS) score is a score associated with a company’s CSA score. People often think the ISS score is the same as a CSA score; while the scores are related, they’re not the same thing. The ISS is a tool the roadside inspectors use to quickly determine if they should pull a truck in for an inspection. 

Each month, when carrier CSA scores are released, each carrier is also assigned an ISS score. The higher the ISS score, the higher the likelihood that drivers on the fleet will be pulled over for inspections. 

Some states have readers that quickly scan a driver’s license plate and USDOT number to get their carrier’s ISS score. Then, they can quickly decide if you should be pulled over for an inspection. 

ISS scores go from 0-100. You can think of them like a stoplight. 

Score 0-50: green light, the truck doesn’t need to be pulled over for an inspection

Score 51-74: yellow light, it’s optional to pull the truck over for an inspection

Score 75-100: red light, the truck should be pulled in for an inspection 

The higher the score, the more likely you’ll be stopped for an inspection. 

Stoplight with a red light.

How CSA Scores and ISS Scores Affect Carriers

ISS scores aren’t public, but CSA scores are (to an extent). There’s enough public information out there about every carrier’s CSA score for customers to view. When they see higher CSA scores, they can choose not to work with that carrier. Instead, they’ll give their loads to other companies with better safety scores. 

If a carrier can secure freight from customers, customers may not be willing to pay prime freight rates. 

That takes business away from the carrier and the drivers. And it puts less money in everyone’s pockets.

How CSA Scores and ISS Scores Affect Truck Drivers

At this point, you might be wondering how all of this affects you.

Well, hopefully, you’re concerned about how violations will show up on your PSP. While every carrier is different, if your points are high, carriers won’t hire you. Some carriers don’t accept points higher than 15. Some don’t accept points higher than 50. It all depends on which carrier you want to drive for.

You should also care about how your points affect your carrier because, in turn, that’ll directly affect you. 

If a carrier’s fleet isn’t performing well as a whole, you’ll feel the effects both directly and indirectly. Even if you’re a great driver with no points to speak of, it’ll still, unfortunately, affect you. 

If a carrier has a high CSA score, as I mentioned above, it’ll be harder for them to secure customers and freight. That can lead to less freight availability for you. Additionally, it can be hard for the carrier to secure top dollar for said freight. 

Customers want to ensure their freight is in good hands. They want their freight to be delivered safely and on time. They’ll pay good money to ensure that happens. If the fleet doesn’t have a great track record, you can guarantee they’ll go to someone who does.

The effects of this will eventually trickle down to you. There’ll be fewer loads to haul and rates will be lower. 

Especially in a time when the market is tough, the last thing you want is to be waiting for loads or hauling loads that don’t pay well. Your safe behavior out on the road can help out your fellow drivers on the team. All drivers have to work together to achieve better overall safety scores.

While CSA scores will indirectly affect you, ISS scores will directly affect you. If ISS scores are in the yellow or red range, you and the other drivers on the fleet will be pulled in more often for inspections. Inspections aren’t quick and they can take valuable time off your clock. That could mean you don’t make it to your destination in time, you run out of hours or you miss a customer deadline. No driver wants to be stopped for an inspection, period.

How Can Drivers Help Lower a Carrier’s CSA Score? 

Wondering how you can lower your CSA violations and the overall score for the carrier? It doesn’t happen overnight. Newer violations will have the biggest impact on CSA scores because those points triple. The longer the violation is on your record, the lower the points will be.

Clean inspections will help you and your carrier. Clean inspections mean fewer violations and therefore fewer points going toward a carrier’s overall CSA score. If your carrier is in alert status and drivers are consistently being pulled over for inspections, you have an opportunity to lower your score by getting clean inspections across the board.

A lot of carriers also reward drivers for clean inspections in one way or another.

It does still take time for a carrier’s score to go down. Remember: CSA scores are compared to carriers with a similar number of inspections. 

The best way you can improve your score, other than waiting for it to go down — which will literally take years — is to practice good driving behaviors. Review the seven BASIC categories and make sure you’re minding your Ps and Qs: 

  • Practice safe driving behaviors
  • Don’t drive aggressively
  • Follow the rules of the road
  • Make sure your CDL is healthy 
  • Don’t use drugs or alcohol
  • Do your pre-trip and post-trip inspections

Truck driver in button down, vest, sunglasses and hat getting into his semi-truck.

Do Your Pre-Trip Inspections 

Driving violations don’t just affect you; they affect your carrier and every driver in your fleet. If every driver in the fleet is being lax, that carrier will see higher CSA and ISS scores. If every driver in the fleet is on their best behavior and following all the rules of the road, the carrier’s CSA and ISS scores will be lower. In turn, the fleet can rely on more freight, better-paying freight and fewer inspections.

One of the easiest ways to keep your CSA points in a healthy range? Do your pre-trip inspections. Before you start driving for the day, do your pre-trip. When you stop driving for the day, do your post-trip inspection. Any time you stop during the day — to get fuel or take a break — check your securements and take a look at your truck and trailer to make sure everything looks good.

Taking your truck in for regular preventative maintenance is also a great idea. When your truck is regularly in the shop to ensure it’s performing in tip-top condition, you’ll encounter fewer issues on the road.

Here’s what you can expect from DOT inspections.