Unsafe Driving BASIC: Have You Been ‘Warned’?

Jennifer Loomis, Associate Editor

December 13, 2021


A warning letter from the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (FMCSA) is sent to motor carriers who have identifiable, but not yet severe, safety issues.

In the case of the Unsafe Driving BASIC, receipt of a warning letter means the carrier was cited during roadside inspections for risky driving behavior, such as speeding, improper lane changes, texting, cell phone use, and so forth. In fact, the motor carrier’s safety history over the past two years, in comparison to its peers, ranks so poorly it exceeded the predetermined threshold for the BASIC.

However, the interventions at FMCSA’s disposal are not progressive. Even though warning letters are the first level of intervention, motor carriers identified with significant safety problems will not necessarily receive a warning letter. Instead, FMCSA may go directly to an investigation.


How to respond to a warning letter

FMCSA sends warning letters to motor carriers with the least severe safety issues to:

  • Make them aware of performance issues, and
  • Encourage changes before issues become habitual and more difficult to correct.

Even though FMCSA does not require that motor carriers provide them with an itemized list of changes following the letter, the correspondence should be a call to action. Ignoring the problem will not make it go away, and it may get worse. And the more a motor carrier exceeds an intervention threshold, the more likely it will be subject to:

  • Targeted roadside inspections,
  • Audits, and
  • Fines and penalties.

In addition to FMCSA ramifications, a high Unsafe Driving BASIC score could impact:

  • Insurance premiums,
  • The ability to attract clients (who may ask to see BASIC scores), and
  • The outcome of litigation involving the motor carrier (claims of negligence).
  • How to improve an Unsafe Driving BASIC score


How to Improve an Unsafe Driving BASIC Score

To address a high Unsafe Driving BASIC score, a motor carrier needs to review the safety data used by FMCSA. This information is available through the Safety Measurement System (SMS) website. Motor carriers log into the portal using their USDOT number and carrier-assigned PIN.

Motor carriers should:

  • Look for patterns of non-compliance, and
  • Address the root cause of the safety violations.

For instance, the data for the Unsafe Driving BASIC might reveal a specific driver or terminal with a pattern of unsafe driving, or perhaps the violations are consistent throughout the organization revealing a systemic problem. The motor carrier must delve into why the violations are occurring and try to prevent future occurrences.

Best practices, depending on the root cause, might include:

  • Driver training and coaching
  • Training on trip planning
  • Dispatch procedures to address shipping and receiving times
  • Updated and consistently enforced policies and procedures
  • Continuous monitoring of driving records to identify risky behavior
  • Hiring qualified drivers through improved screening
  • Use of dash cams and electronic logging devices to spot hard braking, lane departures, speeding, etc.
  • Scheduled monitoring of the motor carrier’s SMS data
  • Using DataQs to challenge incorrect data in the SMS


A motor carrier cannot afford to ignore a warning letter as the result of unsafe driving violations. It needs to come up with a plan to resolve the compliance issues, and then monitor progress to make sure the violations do not happen again. If the problem persists, there is probably a different root cause and another strategy may be needed.


To learn about J. J. Keller® CSA Performance Suite, contact us today at 888.473.4638.