As if the title didn’t tell you all you needed to know, I’m not a big fan of the new CSA rules that the trucking industry is dealing with. In fact, I’d rather jump in the cage with one of those MMA fighters. Being the wuss that I am, it’d be almost as painful as dealing with the CSA, but at least I’d be unconscious in a matter of seconds instead of enduring the never-ending torture that the CSA promises the truck driver.

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Okay, so what is the CSA really? CSA stands for “Compliance, Safety, Accountability.” Now that’s about as technical as this article is going to get. You see, for a change of pace I actually went and tried to do a little research into the CSA before I started writing this article. I gotta tell you, if someone told me my job for the rest of my life was going to involve researching subjects that I care nothing about, I might just join a terrorist group and sign up to wear a bomb vest. Only once I was suited up, I’d walk up and give the head terrorist a big hug, step back, grin, and hit the trigger.

In a nutshell, here’s what the CSA is designed to do. It’s goal is to identify unsafe drivers and carriers. They mean to accomplish this by assigning a “safety value” to both. Basically, anything that a driver can get ticketed for has a value assigned to it. Speeding tickets, parking tickets, driving without your license, equipment violations, preventable accidents, etc.

The carriers get their scores from the drivers who work for them. Any CSA points that a driver receives goes against the carrier too. Now if a driver had collected points while working for another carrier, they don’t transfer to the new carrier when the driver switches jobs. So that’s at least one thing that the CSA got right. The CSA points do stick with the driver through the job change though. They’re like herpes, meaning you’re just stuck with them.

What this means is that drivers are going to be scrutinized even harder when they’re being considered for a job. As if the DAC report wasn’t enough (it shows the history of the driver), now you’ll also have to maintain a good CSA score to be worthy of hiring.

I really don’t have any issues with “grading” a driver, but they should only be graded on things that are under their control. If a driver is speeding, feel free to nail him or her with some points. That makes sense. Clearly if a trucker is intoxicated while driving, they deserve some points… and perhaps a few kicks in the ribs. But what about things that you have little or no control over?

In my 14 years of driving, I can’t honestly remember one time that I went to bed with all my lights working and woke up with a burned out light. There are three situations when I’ll discover a burned out light. One is during my pre-trip inspection when I’m picking up a different trailer. The second is when I’m driving and another driver tells me over the cursed CB radio that I’m “missing an eyeball” (one headlight is out). The third is at the end of a leg of my journey. Maybe I’ve stopped to take a whiz and noticed a dead tail light. Or maybe it’s at the end of my driving shift when I’m doing my walk around.

The point is, lights burn out. Wiring goes bad. Heck, sometimes they just fall out. When does this happen? When you’re driving. So how am I supposed to know exactly when a light burns out? I could do a pre-trip inspection and have a light burn out as I’m driving out of the truck stop parking lot. A cop pulls me over and says I should have done a pre-trip inspection. I did, but how can I prove it? The light was good 3 minutes ago. Am I expected to pull over every minute and check my lights? Uhhhh… no. And that’s just the lights. I haven’t even mentioned air hose leaks and tires with slow leaks. My company has suggested that I should pull over and do an inspection any time I’m getting ready to drive through a weigh station. Really? That’s getting a bit ridiculous, isn’t it? Still, every point I get goes against my record and my future job prospects.

Now some of you may be saying, “Well, usually a cop will let you go get it fixed.” Okay, I’ll give you that. I have been released to get a light fixed, but I’ve also been told to call a repair vehicle to get it fixed. And this leads to another point. What if the cop is trying to be nice by letting you go with a warning? That’s good, right? Well… maybe. It all depends. Those of you who follow me on Twitter know where this is going.

I was cruising around the I-495 loop east of Washington DC and trying to figure out if the FMCSA’s building was within hand gernade distance when I got pulled over by a couple of Maryland State Troopers. Seriously though, I had seen the smokey sitting in the median as soon as I topped the hill. I glanced at my speedometer and saw I was doing 60 mph. Unlike some of you idiots out there who feel the need to mash the brakes every time you see a cop (even if you aren’t speeding), I just kept tooling along. I knew the speed limit was 55 mph, but I also knew a cop rarely looked at a truck going 5 mph over the limit. That logic is fine, but it kinda gets tossed out the window when his laser gun says I was going 67 mph.

Okay, first of all, I’ve never claimed to be any smarter than a trained cockatoo, but I am smart enough to avoid going 12 mph over the speed limit around the DC loop. I told the cop as much and he said the laser didn’t make those kind of errors. I implied that maybe the operator did. After all, there were plenty of cars screaming around me at 65 and 70 mph. I was expecting to catch attitude then, but I didn’t. Both officers were surprisingly calm at my insinuation.

I went on to explain that my truck was speed-limited at 62 mph at the moment. He said I was going slightly down hill. That’s when I told him that after 14 years of driving, I’m pretty sure I wasn’t dumb enough to let myself go 12 mph over the speed limit. I told him he could tell me I was going 67 mph all he wanted, but I would never believe him. I admitted I had my cruise control set on 60 mph and if he wanted to give me a ticket for that, then I’d accept it without a word.

Maybe he thought I’d fight the ticket, or maybe he just wanted to be nice. Who knows? But after a Level I inspection (that’s just a walk-around and driver credentials inspection), he handed me a clean inspection report and a written warning for the “speeding.” I thanked him and went on my way. Maybe I shouldn’t have thanked him. Here’s why.

I later found out that the CSA gives the same amount of points for a warning as they do a violation. As if that weren’t bad enough, here’s where it gets screwier than a screw-driving contest. The thing is, you can fight a ticket. If you win, you can petition the CSA to remove the points from your record. Great! But how exactly can you fight a warning? You can’t. So in essence, getting a written warning is worse than getting a violation. Will there come a day when we drivers are begging the officer to give us a ticket instead of a warning? Lord, I hope not.

Other than the CSA points themselves, what bugs me most about this is that it goes against the officer’s intention. They wanted to be nice by giving you a warning. They’re saying, “Hey, I could’ve nailed you, but I’m going to give you a pass this time. Be sure to watch yourself in the future.” So what has to happen to fix this? Do you think cops will someday realize that they’re screwing us worse by giving us a written warning? Will they eventually learn that they need to give us a VERBAL warning to be nice to us? I doubt it. Most of the cops wouldn’t know a log book violation if it reached up out of the log book and socked them in the kisser. How are they supposed to follow all the regulations of the CSA?

There is possibly some hope for the CSA. They have already shown to retract things that weren’t working or didn’t make sense. So they’ve scrapped the whole system and started over. Kidding. Wish I wasn’t. For example, earlier this year they retracted all points having to do with overweight tickets. I’m not sure what they didn’t like about the criteria, but whatever it was, it was enough to make them give it a second look.

The way it was explained to me was that the entire incident came off the CSA record, but @MightyDeno proved me wrong when he told me that his points had been removed, but the violation was still listed on his record. As another Twitter friend (whom I can’t remember) pointed out, that left it wide open to add the points back in later when they worked out the bugs in the system. Looks like they could eventually get you either way.

So what does this mean for the truck driver as we go forward with the CSA program? Well, for one, I’d say we’ll lose some experienced drivers over this. Whether it’s by their own choice or by bogus CSA points from things out of their control is left to be seen. For those who remain, we can plan on being in the dark for quite some time. Very little is explained to us and not many of us want to dive into research and figure it out. Heck, most drivers I talk to still don’t understand the 14-hour rule correctly. And that rule was issued in 2003. The CSA rules are just as confusing, possibly more so. And you can bet they’ll be changing them on and off to confuse everyone even more.

Recently, another driver and I were looking at the latest statistics issued by the CSA and realized that neither of us knew what the criteria for the results were. We asked dispatch and they didn’t know either. The safety department might have known, but they were gone for the day.

One thing is for sure, my safety director will be getting yet another call from me soon. The latest CSA stats showed that we’ve been surpassed by some companies in the HOS (Hours of Service) category. That category just so happens to be the one that has to do with the cursed e-logs. I’ll be asking him to explain why our company, which doesn’t let their drivers edit their e-logs, has been passed by some companies that I know for a fact have editable e-logs. This is going to be fun.

Please give this post a rating and share it with your weirdo friends. Also, leave a comment with your thoughts about the CSA. May as well make up your own name for them too.

About the Author
I'm a 22-year truck driver with an interest in tech stuff. I do the Trucker Dump podcast and blog, which is all about life as a trucker. I have also written two trucking books, "Trucking Life" and "How to Find a Great Truck Driving Job."
11 comments on “TD69: The CSA (Crappy Sucky Administration)
  1. You really need to get out of trucking! True.

    1. Todd McCann says:

      Believe me. I’m working on it as hard as I can.

  2. Lisa Nowak says:

    Oh, man, like you don’t have a hard enough job without more crazy regulations!

  3. Driver says:

    01/25/11 I was in NM on Hwy 54 my pigtail disconnected from the trailer. I noticed my lights out on my trailer and before I could pull over too fix it, a car came up on me and was tailgating. Then the blue lights came on and I was pulled over. I let the officer know that my pigtail probably disconnected and he did the normal routine log books, reg check etc. He came back to the truck and I asked him if he wanted me to fix the pigtail, he said yeah and he’s going to do a quick walk around. I plug my pigtail in and he did his walk around while my lights are on and hazards flashing. Now on the dot inspection report he put every single light on the trailer as a violation. I had 7 violations for lights, they were either inoperable/no light or defective. Three of those are OOS violations. I also had to ask the officer to put in the comments that the pigtail was disconnected. I asked him with this csa 2010 going on how is this going to affect me or my company, his reply was I don’t know, they haven’t told us about that stuff yet.
    I’m a driver of four years, i’m not a perfect driver but I haven’t been in any accidents, no speeding tickets, one warning for speeding and I don’t have a awful inspection history. From what I was told by my F/M and safety that I was fired because of this inspection and said this inspection drove my score to be too high to keep me.

    1. Todd McCann says:

      Sorry that I’m just getting around to reading and answering your comment. For some reason, the notification never showed up in the email.

      For all you non-truckers, the pigtail is the electrical cord that runs from the tractor to trailer. So now that that’s explained, let me just say…

      What a crock of crap! I don’t even know where to start with this. If you had pulled over on the side of the highway to plug the pigtail back in, he could’ve issued you a ticket for parking on a roadway (been there, done that). Yet when you immediately told the officer you knew what was wrong, he ticketed you anyway. SEVEN FREAKIN’ TIMES!!!!! Wow.

      Now see, that’s the problem with this CSA crap. In the past, you would’ve just paid the fine and gone about your life. These violations wouldn’t have been grounds to lose your license or anything. But now with the CSA points, you get fired. Unbelievable. This is exactly the type of thing I was talking about in my article. When something goes wrong while you’re going down the road, what do they expect us to do?

      I’m really sorry you lost your job over this. I was talking with my Safety Director the other day and he’s been expecting this to happen ever since the CSA was first introduced. He expects a lot of others to walk away from the industry before the CSA has a chance to boot them out.

      Thanks for leaving a comment with this experience. I hope you find a new driving job soon. And please, keep me informed on what happens with your driving career. I’m curious to know how this is going to affect you getting re-hired. I’m wondering if all companies have the same “bad driver” thresholds. Please notice the quotes there.

  4. Driver says:

    Hey Todd thanks for the support. I apologize for any miscommunication on my part, I never received any tickets, the violations were on my dot inspection report and I signed driver made repair for the oos violations.
    I decided to write a email to CSA feedback found in the FMSCA website. I let them know about New Mexico, and the reasons for my termination given to me from my former company.

    This is a quote from the email I received

    “Since FMCSA does not have a formal way to evaluate drivers, carriers make up their own system. Something their system uses parts of DSMS or Carrier SMS. FMCSA does not have any driver thresholds, so that figure is coming from your carrier. Often carriers buy third party software to help with their calculations. ”

    Now as far as employment, Companies like Swift, US Express etc some of the very large companies wont hire me on until I have been employed by another trucking company for six months. I’m probably better off. I’ve had 4 different trucking companies willing to hire me on. I’ve been taking my time looking and I ‘m feeling better about getting behind the wheel now that the dot blitz is over.
    Be safe out there,

    1. Todd McCann says:

      Thanks for the update, Driver. It’s good to know that it’s not the government deciding what a good CSA score is. Although it’s not going to be easy to know how strict a carrier is until they give you the axe.

      Glad to hear you’ve had multiple job offers though. Let’s hope your new company isn’t so strict on the CSA rules.

      Good luck!!

  5. Autoped says:

    I’m not a big fan of this CSA as well for other reasons. My particular instance involves a bad carrier forcing me to drive unsafe vehicles. I was given ultimatums of “Roll with it or get fired”. Well, the government isn’t going to feed my family, and I remember filling out truck driving applications including, “Have you ever been fired from a job?” in the application being a heavy question. What other recourse does a truck driver have? It’s easy to find new truck drivers with clean records who don’t mind marring it up, but for those people who make this a CAREER, it is devestating.
    My particular case involved hauling heavy equipment on an RGN in Texas. I told my company when I came aboard that the trailer brakes on the trailer were all out of adjustment, as well as other issues with the rig itself. Here it is, a month later, NOTHING has been repaired and I’m being called to make a 400 mile haul while Texas DPS is doing a 72 hour DOT sting. I advise them that the truck and trailer will be put out of service, and I get the same old, “roll with it” response. After arguing with my bosses about the situation, I get the ultimatum, and I’m forced to drive the truck, broken and without 50% of the brakes. Lo and behold, I’m stopped for a level 1 inspection by Texas. They went over the rig with a fine toothed comb and found a good two pages of violations. All but the brakes were warnings, and the brake issue was a violation. I was put out of service, and called my boss to tell him, “I told you so!” The hard part about this was that the company didn’t even fix the brakes until almost a month AFTER the violation!
    Just before that particular violation, I was inspecting a 1.5 ton pickup/gooseneck trailer combo for a trip from Texas to Kansas. I found that the brakes on THIS trailer didn’t work either. In early July, I was coming back from a trip in the 18 wheeler (brakes finally fixed, but now, I lost power in my dash), and I was told that I needed to take the P/U/GN combo for a short local haul. I pre-tripped the truck and trailer, and still no brakes. Well, same threats, and I get stuck on the road with it. And luck so be my lady, I got pulled over for suspicion of the lack of a Class A CDL. I show him the CDL, and the officer is relieved, and then starts a level 1 inspection. They find the brake issue, put me OOS, and I get a ticket for it too. My boss comes to the site and pays off the cops to allow the company to drive an OOS vehicle back to their shop. When the truck got back to the shop, I saw some workers loading up a piece of machinery on my rig, and I asked if my rig was fixed. He said yes. I do a THOROUGH inspection, and find that the dashboard accessories, gauges, and A/C work with the key off. After a while, I found a wire jumped from one end of the fuse block to the other! Thats a good way to burn a truck down, let me tell you! I told my boss that the truck wasn’t fixed, and I wasn’t driving it. After yet ANOTHER argument, my boss said, “So what are you gonna do?” I was finally fed up, and quit right then and there. One month, consisting of 2 level 1 inspections, both putting me out of service, and a grand total of 89 points on my CSA record. I’ve had my CDL for 5 years now (not to mention spotless), and one company comes and destroys it, and now I’m left wondering if those points are going to get me fired from my current job.
    I’m currently looking for an attorney to sue my old job for damages.
    Don’t you just love how federal laws designed to remove the unsafe drag down the good as well?
    If we could file a class action suit against this CSA BS, maybe then, they will learn that they can’t standardize an issue this crucial not only to the livelyhoods of several honest workers, but to an already fragile economy.

    1. Todd McCann says:

      I’m sure we both know that the folks over at CSA mean well. Like you said though, it’s too bad it brings down the good along with the bad.

      I think you’ve brought up a point that EVERY driver should pay attention too. No longer can we drivers tolerate driving inferior equipment or driving illegal. That’s as simple as it gets. I’ve heard other drivers talking about driving defective equipment, but your ex-employer seems to be worse than most. I have to ask why you continued to work for them after they continually lied to you? I can only imagine that it’s associated with the crappy economy and lack of available jobs. You know, I’ll let the first lie slide, but lie to me again and someone is getting a talking too.

      No one likes a narc, but I think that this may be a prime example of justifying “narciness.” Think about it. They “force” you to drive unsafe equipment, putting your life at risk. When they are forced to make repairs, they jury rig them instead of fixing them properly. They keep lying to you like you’re some kind of a moron, even though you keep catching them in the act by doing thorough pre-trip inspections. I’m sorry, but these guys have it coming.

      If it were me, I’d have narced. I guess I’d have started with the DOT and gone from there until someone listened. What’s the worst that could happen? You might get fired, collect unemployment during your next job search, and keep from racking up all those CSA points. And if for some strange reason you wanted to keep working for these lying jerks after you’d been fired, well, I imagine you’d have no problem getting your job back if you threatened to sue them. I can’t imagine anyone who would think it’s right to fire someone for whistle-blowing to make the roads safer.

      In close, I’m glad you quit that company. I wish you’d have done it earlier, but seeing as how this all took place in one short month, I see why you didn’t. Let’s hope that the CSA manages to run these guys out of business. That is their purpose after all. If this crappy carrier manages to stay in business without straightening up their act, clearly the CSA should clean out their offices and look for other jobs. Maybe the lying jerks will hire them?

  6. Greg R. says:

    As a driver of 14 years, I’m completely blown away at the stupidity and total lack of knowledge our government officials continue to display!!!!!!!!
    Come on, you talk about a slap in the face to every driver on the road. The email claiming the fmcsa has no control over a carriers driver threshold is total B.S!!!!!! They clearly designed and implemented the CSA 2010 system. They clearly give the carriers a performance threshold to stay in business. And they clearly put the heart of the trucking industry, (drivers), as the ultimate target.

    Who takes the carriers equipment out on the road to be subjected to these new rules? If the equipment didn’t move from the carriers yard then they would all have no problems meeting CSA 2010.
    Oh my, I just gotta scratch my head at this crap!

    There will be thousands of drivers who will end up loosing their jobs because a carrier chooses to “role the dice” with our employment on the line. It’s simple! If a driver gets points while operating their equipment, just get rid of the driver. Carriers have to stay under a threshold to avoid DOT intervention. Unfortunately, it will be the driver who pays the ultimate price!!! How screwed up is this?

    Companies are already turning away drivers with too many points on their record, even if the company desperately needs drivers!
    Yes, even if they need drivers in the worst way. If that doesn’t wake up every single driver out there, I don’t know what will.

    Cover your butt’s guys and gals. Stay away from companies that are willing to put your families income on the line. If that just isn’t possible in your particular situation, then use your smartphones to record conversations with these low lifes. Take pictures, pictures, pictures….to show an ongoing history of equipment neglect. So at least when you are let go, they won’t be able to fight your unemployment.

    Punish people who are willing to sacrifice a normal family life and put in 70 hour weeks!! What the heck!

    Good luck to you all

  7. Todd McCann says:

    Well Greg, you’ve got an excellent point there. The FMCSA and the CSA have to be in this together. Thanks for pointing that out.

    I have a feeling this is going to go down just as every other change does. Driver’s say they’ll leave the industry if the rules change. Or if their company gets e-logs. Or… or… or…

    The fact of the matter is, we’ll all suck it up like we always do, whine for a while, then fall into line. Sad, but true.

    The only light I see is that if the CSA does wind up costing the industry too many drivers, they’ll hopefully back off the strictness of the penalties. At least we can hope. Who else is going to haul the freight? The carriers already can’t find enough drivers.

    Thanks for the comment. Now go have a beer and take a deep breath. Relax, man. LOL Thanks for leaving your thoughts.

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