What are the trucking BASICs and why are they important?

When you work in trucking, you’re subject to many, many regulations. The goal of these regulations is to keep the roads safe for all drivers – CMV drivers and passenger cars alike. That’s the reason that the SMS (Safety Measurement System) exists. It’s a way for the FMCSA to keep track of a motor carrier’s safety record. How do they do this? They use data from different sources and organize it into seven different categories, called BASICs. We’ll go into more detail.

Here’s an overview of what we’ll cover.

  • What is “intervention”?
  • What is the Safety Measurement System (SMS)?
  • What are the seven BASIC categories?
  • Where does the data come from?

What is intervention?

Intervention is when the FMCSA steps in and requests that a motor carrier make changes to improve safety and get in compliance. This intervention can come in the form of a letter, an inspection, or an investigation. We’ll explain how the FMCSA decides when to intervene with a motor carrier.

What is the Safety Measurement System?

To explain succinctly, the SMS is how the FMCSA determines which motor carriers are top priorities for intervention. The FMCSA uses the SMS to check that motor carriers are in compliance. They do this by reviewing on-road performance data from inspections, crash reports, and violations (acute and critical) that were found in past inspections. The information that the SMS collects allows motor carriers to see where they need to improve safety-wise. Motor carriers can use the information stored in SAFER (Safety and Fitness Electronic Records) to see their “rankings” for safety in different areas.

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Where does the data come from?

The data used in the SMS comes from different places:

  • Roadside inspections
  • Investigations
  • Commercial vehicle crash data that has been reported by the state
  • Motor carrier census data

Roadside inspections:

Roadside inspections are done by certified inspectors of the Motor Carrier Safety Assistance Program, or MCSAP (i.e. someone from state or local law enforcement). Violations are recorded, and they’re put into the Motor Carrier Management Information System (MCMIS). These violations could result in a driver or vehicle being placed Out of Service (OOS).


These are conducted by a Safety Inspector to determine a motor carrier’s compliance with the FMCRS/HMRs. There are two types of investigation – offsite and on-site. Offsite investigations are typically to address safety issues that are just becoming prevalent. They’re not conducted at the motor carrier’s place of business – instead, the safety inspector works remotely with the carrier to look into the issue. They use the documentation provided by the motor carrier. On-site investigations occur at the place of business, and there are two types. An on-site focused investigation looks at a specific safety issue, while an on-site comprehensive investigation looks at the entire business and its operation.

(Any violations are put into the MCMIS. Acute violations are usually one-time occurrences, but they can result in noncompliance that is so severe immediate action is required. A critical violation is more of a pattern of noncompliance.)

State-reported commercial vehicle crash data.

This data is taken from the MCMIS, and it’s basically data that is reported by state or local law enforcement. All reportable crashes are used, regardless of the driver’s role in the accident itself.

Motor Carrier Census Data.

This is information that identifies the motor carrier. It can include the DOT Number, the name of the carrier, the number of power units and the type of power units, the miles traveled, the location, the status, and the cargo that’s typically hauled.

What are the BASICs?

BASIC stands for Behavioral Analysis and Safety Improvement Category. The information gathered in the SMS is organized into seven categories – the BASICs. Then motor carriers are grouped with others that have a similar number or record of safety events, like crashes, inspections, and violations. From there, each carrier is assigned a percentile score from 0-100, with 100 being the worst. If a motor carrier has an Acute or Critical Violation from an investigation within the past year, it will have an “Alert” for the appropriate BASICs.

At any rate, here’s a brief description of each category:

Unsafe Driving:

Focus on – Operating a commercial vehicle in a dangerous or reckless manner.

Example – Speeding, reckless driving, not changing lanes properly, texting and driving, not wearing a seatbelt.

Crash Indicator (Not available to the public):

Focus on – A pattern of crashes or accidents, taking frequency and severity into account. State-reported crash data from reportable crashes provides the source for this BASIC. All reportable crashes are used. This category uses crash history that is not in itself a behavior, but the result of a behavior.

HOS (Hours of Service) Compliance:

Focus on – When a driver of a commercial vehicle operates that vehicle when ill, fatigued, or in violation of hours of service regulations. This can also encompass the violation of regulations concerning records of duty status (RODS).

Examples – Making or allowing a CMV driver to operate a commercial vehicle for more than 11 hours, not keeping RODS for six months, or not keeping supporting documentation.

Vehicle Maintenance:

Focus on – Not adequately maintaining the CMV to prevent the shifting or falling of cargo, or the overloading of the vehicle.

Examples – Brakes or lights that don’t work, not securing the load properly, not making needed/necessary repairs.

Controlled Substances/Alcohol:

Focus on – Operating a CMV while impaired due to alcohol, drugs, or improper use of prescription or over-the-counter medicines.

Examples – Not having an alcohol/controlled substances testing program, use of or possession of controlled substances/alcohol.

HM Compliance (not available to the public):

Focus on – Not handling hazardous materials on a commercial vehicle safely.

Examples – Not marking/labeling/placarding in compliance with regulations, improperly securing a container containing hazardous materials, leaking containers, not conducting a cargo tank test or inspection when it’s required by the USDOT.

Driver Fitness:

Focus on – When a driver is not qualified to operate a CMV (due to lack of training, experience, or medical fitness).

Examples – Not holding a valid/proper commercial driver’s license, not being qualified medically to operate a CMV, not maintaining the proper qualification documentation.

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The SMS, SAFER, BASICs, CSA, and all the other acronyms out there might seem overwhelming and confusing. The good news is that our agents can help break things down for you. We can go over this with you, and while we’re at it, we can help you get some insurance quotes for your trucking business. Get in touch by filling out our online form, or if you prefer you can call us or message us on LiveChat.