As 2010 drew to a close, the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (FMCSA) began publishing on its website data compiled and generated as part of an initiative called CSA --- Compliance, Safety, Accountability. Most transportation professionals who follow these developments understand that CSA and the Safety Measurement System (SMS) data are a replacement for a prior system known as SafeStat. 

However, it has been my observation that many persons are under the erroneous impression that CSA/SMS has somehow superseded or replaced the “safety rating system.” The lesson for this installment of PARCEL Counsel is that the safety rating system is still very much in place and has not been replaced by CSA/SMS. 

By way of background, the safety rating system originated in the 1980s pursuant to a congressional mandate. Under this system a motor carrier is assigned a safety rating, i.e., “satisfactory,” “conditional,” or “unsatisfactory.” These ratings are decided based upon an actual visit to a carrier’s office and a review of its records. Until such a visit is made, a carrier’s safety rating is “unrated.” 

As of January 2012, there were approximately 66,000 carriers with a “satisfactory” rating, 17,000 with a “conditional” rating, and 2,000 with an “unsatisfactory” rating. This means that of the approximately 190,000 motor carriers with active authority, there are approximately 105,000 carriers who are “unrated.”

In contrast to a physical inspection of a carrier’s records --- a very time-consuming proposition --- the Safety Measurement System (SMS) and its predecessor SafeStat are statistical in nature and rank the carriers in various categories. Under SafeStat there were four categories; under CSA there are seven categories. Within each category motor carriers are given a percentile ranking with “0” being the best possible rating and “100” being the worst possible rating.

The stated purpose of CSA, as well as its predecessor SafeStat, is to enable the FMCSA to prioritize motor carriers for inspections and possible interventions. Similar to the SafeStat system, the FMCSA website will publish rankings called BASICs (Behavior Analysis and Safety Improvement Categories). For five of these categories, a carrier’s score is available for public view on the FMCSA’s website. A score of 60 or 65 (or higher), depending upon the category, will result in a small yellow triangle containing an exclamation mark to also be posted. This symbol replaces the word “alert” which was in use for an initial period of time. 

Although there has been much discussion as to whether and how the BASICs scores should be used by a shipper to select its carriers, the position of the FMCSA, as stated on its website, is that the yellow triangle is “not intended to imply any federal safety rating of the carrier… Unless a motor carrier in the SMS has received an UNSATISFACTORY safety rating… or has otherwise been ordered to discontinue operations by the FMCSA, it is authorized to operate on the nation's roadways.

The FMCSA has announced that in 2012, it intends to begin rule making proceedings whose eventual goal would be to establish a set of rules that would replace the existing method of determining a carrier’s safety fitness with one based upon the SMS data and BASICs scores. Once in effect, the terms “satisfactory,” “conditional,” and “unsatisfactory” could be replaced by terms such as “continue to operate,” “marginal,” and “unfit.” However, these terms are only under discussion and will not be finalized until the rule making process is completed --- which could take years.

To sum up, the safety rating system which leads to a carrier’s designation of “satisfactory,” “unsatisfactory,” “conditional,” or “unrated” is still in place. Independent of this system is CSA and its BASICs scores. In future installments of PARCEL Counsel, we will take a closer look at CSA and its implications for parcel shippers.

All for now!

Brent Wm. Primus, J.D., is the CEO of Primus Law Office, P.A. and the Senior Editor of transportlawtexts, inc. Previous columns, including those of William J. Augello, may be found in the “Content Library” on the PARCEL website ( Your questions are welcome at