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A brief introduction to the trucking SMS

The trucking world is filled with confusing things. The regulations are many and the letters – FMCSA, CSA, SMS, DOT – can cause real befuddlement. Three letters in particular, SMS, are extremely important. They stand for Safety Measurement System. We’ll explain what the trucking SMS is all about by answering a few common questions about it. 

What is the trucking SMS?

First of all – what is the SMS? What’s the big deal? 

Okay, so here’s the scoop. The FMCSA (Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration) uses the SMS to keep tabs on a motor carrier’s safety performance. They use it to determine which carriers need intervention measures, and they also use it to figure out what problems a specific carrier is facing. Lastly, they use it to keep tabs on motor carriers over time. That’s the purpose of the SMS … and why it’s a good idea for you as a motor carrier to understand it and keep an eye on your SMS performance. 

What data is used for the SMS and where does it come from?

Next, how does the SMS decide which carriers are operating safely and which aren’t? Well, the SMS uses the following data…

  • Roadside inspection violations (NOT just out-of-service violations)
  • State-reported crashes

(It uses two years worth of data.) 

But how does this data magically appear? The trucking SMS gets the data from the MCMIS (Motor Carrier Management Information System), which is an FMCSA database. It takes the past two years of inspection data from the MCMIS and State-reported CMV crashes. (They also look at registration and census information.) It also includes the past year’s worth of results from Federal and State investigations. 

Who is subject to the SMS?

What motor carriers are included in this Safety Measurement System thing? Well, the FMCSA regulates/oversees carriers throughout North America who…

  • Haul loads of 10,001+ lbs interstate
  • Haul hazardous materials (including intrastate) 

So, if that sounds like your motor carrier, you are subject to the FMCSA and the SMS.

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How are percentiles calculated? 

Okay, so the trucking SMS says how safe a motor carrier is. But how do they reflect that? It’s through these things called percentiles

There are seven BASICs (Behavior Analysis and Safety Improvement Categories), first of all, and the SMS looks at how the carrier is doing in each of these seven categories. The SMS determines the percentiles for the categories by comparing a motor carrier to others that are similar to it in terms of operation, inspections, inspections with violations, and crashes. So the percentile reflects how the carrier is doing as compared to these similar carriers. 

A quick note: percentiles are scored from 0-100. But unlike in grade school, you want to get as close to 0 as possible. 0 is the best score and 100 is the worst score. The carrier within the group with the lowest measure is in the 0 percentile, the carrier the highest measure is in the 100th percentile, and the rest of the carriers in that group fall in between. 

We know. It’s confusing and annoying. 

What are the seven BASIC categories? 

So we mentioned that the trucking SMS includes these seven categories called the BASICs. But what are the seven categories? 

Here we go: 

The names of the categories are fairly self-explanatory. 

How does a motor carrier sign into the trucking SMS? 

It’s not too difficult. You can either go to the SMS site and use your USDOT Number to sign in or you can go to the FMCSA Portal, sign in there, and follow the SMS link. (If you need your USDOT Pin Number, you’ll have to take care of that through the SAFER website. 

So, that’s a brief introduction to the SMS. It’s important to know how it all works, though, because the FMCSA takes safety very seriously. You need to make sure you’re in compliance and that you’re acing the SMS. That way your business can thrive. Yes, it might seem like a lot of letters and a lot of numbers, but those letters and those numbers are extremely important. Remember – safety is crucial for trucking businesses.

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You also need to make sure you have the right truck insurance to protect your business. Truck insurance might seem daunting and complicated, but that’s why our team strives to make it easy. We also like to help truck businesses save money on their insurance. You can get in touch with our team by filling out our online form, giving us a call, or messaging us on LiveChat.