Part 3 of Busting Trucking Brokers – Understand the BASICs of Safety Scores

In our last article, we looked at the second step in “Busting Brokers“, figuring out who the players involved are despite their best efforts to hide in the “Shipping Shell Game“.  Now we are gong to learn our BASICs, which as we learned in our first article is short for Behavior Analysis and Safety Improvement Categories.

2nd Step:     Check Past The Broker’s Safety Rating—Look At The “B.A.S.I.C” Scores

Once you have a sufficient understanding of the “Alphabet Soup” of Broker Busting B.A.S.I.C.’s and have done a little research to be confident your jurisdiction will support a negligent hiring cause of action, the next step is to determine whether your case factually falls within the box to do some B.A.S.I.C. busting.  In order to do that, you need to understand what the safety rating vs. safety scores (B.A.S.I.C.s) are all about, and go beyond the carrier’s “safety rating” to look at it’s actual B.A.S.I.C. scores to see what kind of safety statistics were available about the carrier prior to the crash and whether the scores call into question the carrier’s safety status at the time of hiring by the broker.

The “Safety Rating” Assigned to Carriers

A carrier’s “safety rating” is given to a motor carrier by the FMCSA following a compliance review conducted by the FMCSA.  The compliance review is a detailed review conducted by the FMCSA and state partners that results in one of three ratings:  Satisfactory, Conditional, or Unsatisfactory.

A carrier’s “safety rating” is what the broker industry attempts to hold as the only determination of “safety” upon which brokers need rely when deciding what carriers to hire.  In essence, their argument is that as long as the federal government has not taken away a carrier’s authority to be on the road by giving it an Unsatisfactory rating, the carrier is “safe” enough to be on the roads and therefore safe enough for the broker to hire to haul its customer’s loads.

Unfortunately, the broker industry’s argument ignores the reality that the “safety rating” becomes old and out-dated almost the instant it is assigned.  This is because the safety rating is based on an actual on-site compliance review, in which the FMCSA actually goes to the carrier and reviews its files.  These compliance reviews only take place on a very small  number of carriers each year, and carriers can go years between compliance reviews.

In fact, the University of Michigan Transportation Research Institute (“UMTRI”) review of the CSA 2010 program that was sponsored and is disseminated by the FMCSA itself noted this essential flaw of the “safety rating”:

At current staffing levels, FMCSA and its State partners conduct about 16,000 CRs [Compliance Reviews] annually on the approximately 514,000 motor carriers nationwide that FMCSA considers to be active, based on recent activity.  Approximately 10,000 of the annual CRs are conducted by FMCSA, while the remaining 6,000 are conducted by State partners.  The CR program is resource-intensive and it may take a trained safety investigator several days to complete one CR.  Therefore, the program requires considerable Agency and State partner resources and only reaches a small portion of the Nation’s motor carriers.  After performing a CR, FMCSA issues a safety fitness determination and a corresponding safety rating.  One of the limitations of this process is that the safety rating remains in effect until another CR is performed.  As a result, a safety rating may not be an accurate indicator of a carrier’s current safety fitness.[1]

This demonstrates the problem with relying on the “Safety Rating” to determine whether a carrier is currently a safe carrier.  In 2011, only about 16,000 compliance reviews were done out of approximately 514,000 carriers—approximately 3% of the carriers.  That left 97% of carriers with a safety rating that was at least a year, if not more, out of date.  Even the study sponsored by the FMCSA itself warns that the safety rating should not be used as an indication of a carrier’s current safety fitness.

The FMCSA’s Safety Measurement System (SMS)

A more up-to-date, current measure of a carrier’s safety fitness comes from the FMCSA’s Safety Measurement System (“SMS”), which quantifies on-road safety performance of carriers and drivers.  Data is taken from a motor carrier’s roadside inspections, including all safety-based violations, State-reported crashes, and the federal motor carrier census.  The SMS uses this data to quantify carriers’ safety in different Behavioral Analysis and Safety Improvement Categories (“BASICs”).  The current BASIC categories for On-Road Safety Performance are:

Unsafe Driving  This category deals with operation of commercial motor vehicles by drivers in a dangerous or careless manner.  Examples include speeding, reckless driving, improper lane changes, and inattention.


Hours of Service (HOS) Compliance:   This category concerns drivers operating commercial motor vehicles when they are ill, fatigued, or in non-compliance with the HOS regulations.  This includes violations of regulations regarding records of duty status in relation to HOS requirements and management of driver fatigue.  Examples include violations of the records of duty status requirements, as well as operating a commercial motor vehicle while ill or fatigued.

Driver Fitness:  This category concerns operation of commercial motor vehicles by drivers who are unfit to operate a commercial motor vehicle because of lack of training, experience, or medical qualifications.  Examples include Failing to have a valid and appropriate commercial driver’s license, and being medically unqualified to operate a commercial motor vehicle.

Controlled Substances/Alcohol: This category concerns operation of commercial motor vehicles by drivers impaired by alcohol, illegal drugs, and misuse of prescription or over the counter medications.  Examples include the use or possession of controlled substances/alcohol.

Vehicle Maintenance:  This category concerns the failure to properly maintain commercial motor vehicles and/or to properly prevent shifting loads.  Examples include brakes, lights, and other mechanical defects, failure to make required repairs, and improper load securement.

Hazardous Materials (HM) Compliance:  This category concerns the unsafe handling of hazardous materials on a commercial motor vehicle.  Examples include the release of hazardous materials from package, no shipping papers (shipper), and no placards/markings when required.

Crash Indicator:  This category deals with history of pattern of high crash involvement, including frequency and severity.  It is based on information from state reported crashes.

The FMCSA uses the data to arrive at a measurement for the carrier in the various safety categories.  That measurement depends on the number of adverse safety events (i.e., the number of violations in that category or crashes), the severity of the violations or crashes, and when those adverse safety events occurred (more recent events have a higher weight).  Once the measurement is determined, a carrier is placed in a peer group and given a percentile score in comparison to the other carriers in the peer group on the various basic categories.

The scores within a BASIC category range from 0 to 100.   This score is like golf, not school.  In other words, the higher the score, the worse the carrier’s safety score.  A score of “0” means a carrier had the best score out of all the carriers in that peer group.  A score of 100 is the worst.  The BASIC score chart shown here demonstrates a carrier who scored 82.7 in a particular BASIC category.  This means that 82.7% of the other carriers in its peer group scored better than it did in that category, and only 17.3% were worse.

The FMCSA uses the BASIC scores to identify carriers for further intervention on safety issues.  It has therefore established “intervention thresholds” for the various BASICs.  When a carrier’s BASIC score in a particular category exceeds that threshold, an alert status is indicated and the carrier is targeted for further intervention actions aimed at improving the safety issues.


UNSAFE DRIVING                                  65

HOS COMPLIANCE                                65

DRIVER FITNESS                                   80

CONTROLLED SUBSTANCE/                80


VEHICLE MAINTENANCE                     80

HM COMPLIANCE                                 80

CRASH INDICATOR                              65


Potential interventions that can be taken include a warning letter, off-site investigation, on-site focused investigation, on-site comprehensive investigation, cooperative safety plan, notice of violation, notice of claim, and operations out-of-service order.

Part of the intervention process can also include targeted roadside inspections.  In this way, the alert status acts to highlight a carrier for further inspections by law enforcement personnel across the country.  As a result, a carrier with that has exceeded a threshold will now be highlighted for inspection by law enforcement personnel when they are stopped or go through an inspection location.  This process helps place further scrutiny on a carrier by increasing the number of recent inspections.  This, of course, can either help or hurt the carrier’s scores.  If they take action and improve safety, the increased scrutiny and number of “safe” inspections will help their scores improve.  At the same time, if they are not improving, it will further highlight the safety issues and their scores will get worse.

BASIC scores are updated on a monthly basis, and are available to the public online through the FMCSA’s website at  Currently, however, the Hazardous Materials Compliance and Crash Indicator scores are not made available to the public. I don’t know about you, but I find that more than a little concerning. Since hazmat spills/releases due to accidents can cause terrible harm to humans, animals, and the environment, I would think those would be important things for the public to know.  However, the government cites Homeland Security issues, among others, as reason for not letting us know what those scores are.

Now that you know a little about the industry, have checked the carrier’s B.A.S.I.C. scores, and satisfied yourself that it had bad safety scores, your next step is to find out exactly how the broker in your case goes about qualifying carriers, and in particular what it did to qualify the carrier in your case. We will learn that in detail in our next article, Part 4 of Busting Brokers: Discover the Broker’s Method of Qualifying Carriers. If you missed the first two articles, the links to both are in the first paragraph of this article.

     If we at Keith Williams Law Group can be of assistance to you with your trucking injury case, we will be glad to talk it over with you and perhaps we can work together to maximize the recovery for your client.

[1] Evaluation of the CSA 2010 Operational Model Test, U.S. Department of Transportation Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration, August 2011 (emphasis added).