CSA, DataQ, SMS: What’s the Difference?

CSA, DataQ, SMS: What’s the Difference?

By Nidasha Willis

If you’re a truck driver or trucking company, you may hear acronyms like SMS, CSA, and DataQ tossed around a lot. In this short blog, we’ll teach you how to distinguish the three, why they’re useful to you, and how they facilitate safety. Let’s get started.


What is CSA Score Data?


CSA stands for Compliance, Safety, Accountability. This is the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (FMCSA)’s safety compliance and enforcement program. It aims to help motor carriers identify safety problems and prioritize interventions. Because safety and compliance impact safety records, the CSA score data is incredibly useful to drivers (especially when working for a carrier).


CSA scores – which range from 1 to 10 points – are used to identify high-risk fleets, carriers, and trucks to ensure best safety practices are being followed. The score data provides an indication of a driver’s performance as well as a sense of accountability to both driver and motor carrier. It is also used directly in the FMCSA’s Safety Management System (SMS), which the next section discusses directly.


What is SMS?


The Safety Measurement System (SMS) is the FMCSA’s workload prioritization tool. As noted above, the CSA score data is used to identify carriers with potential safety problems in need of interventions.


To assess motor carrier on-road performance and compliance, SMS organizes data into seven Behavior Analysis and Safety Improvement Categories (BASIC).


  1. Unsafe driving
  2. Crash indicators
  3. Hours-of-service compliance
  4. Vehicle maintenance
  5. Controlled substances/alcohol
  6. Hazardous materials (HM) compliance
  7. Driver fitness


Each of these seven categories is used to calculate a quantifiable measure of the motor carrier’s performance. The system will also group carriers using these categories along with other carriers that have a similar number of safety events (ex: crashes, violations, inspections, etc.). With this information, the SMS can then rank carriers based on their BASIC measure and assign them a percentile from 0 to 100.


You’ll receive a safety performance percentile from SMS, and you can judge your safety performance based on this number. The higher the percentile, the worse your safety performance. The three primary factors that decide your ranking are:

  1. Number of violations
  2. Severity of violations
  3. Data of violations (recent violations carry more weight)


What is DataQ?


DataQ is an online system that allows drivers, motor carriers, Federal and State agencies, and others to request, track, and review information issued by the FMCSA. The system also allows individuals to file a DataQ request to challenge a DOT inspection or report that contains incorrect defects or information.


If you discover incorrect/incomplete information on your record, then you can submit a request for review through DataQ. By modifying incorrect information, you can reduce your CSA score and SMS percentile.


Final thoughts


While SMS, DataQ, and CSA Score Data are all in the same “family,” each has a distinct role in how the FMCSA defines your safety and compliance as a driver. CSA Score Data is used as a part of the Safety Management System (SMS) to assign you a percentile that compares you to other drivers. If you believe that something on your record is incorrect and impacting these scores, then DataQ is a tool that can help you request a review.