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What’s a percentile in the SMS?

If you’re in the trucking world, there are a lot of terms and numbers used by the SMS (Safety Measurement System) when it comes to talking about a carrier. Especially when it comes to safety records. Interpreting these things can be a struggle. For example, one major component of these safety scores is the percentiles. What exactly is a percentile and what does it mean? Understanding the BASICs means being able to make sense of these numbers. We’ll go over what a “percentile” is and what it tells you.

What is a percentile?

Okay, so when it comes to percentiles, you’ve got to have an understanding of the BASICs. (BASICs stands for Behavior Analysis and Safety Improvement Categories.) There are seven different BASICs:

(Now, understanding the BASICs and the entire methodology of the system is a whole other story, but we’re going to stick with discussing percentiles and how all that works.)

The SMS makes measurements for each of the BASICs. Then these measurements are used to figure out a ranking throughout a group of motor carriers. Those rankings are shown as percentiles. (See, now we’re getting to the good stuff.) These percentiles allow motor carriers to be compared against carriers who have similar operations and numbers of safety events. It gives a sense of the motor carrier’s safety behavior as it compares to similar businesses. It’s just a way to put a specific motor carrier in context with other, comparable trucking operations.

Okay, the next thing to know is what the different numbers mean. The percentiles go from 0-100. Unlike with school grades, getting a high percentile isn’t a good thing. 100 is the worst score you can get. When you’re split up into your group of motor carriers, the carrier with the highest safety measure will get 100 and the carrier with the lowest measure is at the 0. (To put it simply, the carrier with the worst safety record gets the 100 and the carrier with the best safety record gets the 0.) The rest of the carriers in the group are sorted between those numbers based on their compliance record.

So – what you need to remember when looking at your SMS percentiles is this: 100 is not good, and the closer you are to 0, the better. You’re being ranked against carriers with similar operations and numbers of safety events. That’s the short version of what a percentile is.

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