The History of the Yellow School Bus

We don’t know about you guys, but these days, it seems like we’ve got a lot of time on our hands. I mean A LOT! There’s only so many times we can walk the dog or make a loaf of banana bread. Needless to say, all this time has us thinking about things. Like, why did mom jeans and scrunchies come back in style, and why do we have so many? Or, who was the first person who saw a horse run by and thought, “I could ride that!”? And for today’s discussion, why are school buses yellow? So, let’s all take a brief look throughout the history of the big yellow school bus together.

The 1800s- The Earliest School Bus

The earliest version of school buses were referred to as ‘kid hacks’. Now, we’re not talking about the life hacks that show you how to use half a pool noodle to prevent your car door from hitting the garage wall. Or, freezing grapes to chill wine without watering it down. In the 1800s, ‘kid hacks’ were repurposed farm wagons. Some of which, were specially built with bench seating to transport people. In fact, kids used the back of the wagon to enter and exit so they didn’t scare the horses that pulled them. However, there were not a lot of them available. So, most students still walked to and from school (uphill both ways, of course).

1914- The Addition of Motors

yellow school bus feature

The earliest school bus was actually a wagon that required kids to enter and exit from the back so they didn’t scare the horses that pulled them.

At this time, the automobile industry was rapidly expanding. Similarly to our quarantine waistlines. Wayne Works (one of the longest-running school bus manufacturers) had the brilliant idea to motorize ‘kid hacks’, or kiddy carriages. Unfortunately, the design was kept the same so the children had little to no protection from the elements.

1930- The First All-Steel Bus

In 1930, following the lead of a Ford car dealer, Wayne Works introduced the first all-steel school bus designed with safety glass. This edition also moved the entry door from the back to the front of the bus. And, while obviously a big improvement, parents were still concerned about their little one’s safety.

1939- ‘Yellow’ Makes a Splash

This year was a major turning point in the history of the yellow school bus. In 1939, a conference was organized by Dr. Frank Cyr, at the University of Manhattan, to establish a set of 44 national school bus standards. Many of which are still in place today. One of those standards was the color of the buses, specifically known as “National School Bus Glossy Yellow”.

Interestingly, this color is registered more quickly in a person’s peripheral vision faster than any other color. Thus, reducing the likelihood of other motorists colliding with the bus. In addition, yellow is also highly visible in the early morning and evening light (i.e. the most congested hours for school bus routes).

Likewise, we can’t help but wonder if this could help prevent future collisions with those sharp countertop corners, as well. It’s something to think about. Nevertheless, at the time, 35 states immediately switched their school buses to the aforementioned yellow color. But, it wasn’t until 1974 that this change was implemented throughout the country.

The 1970s- School Bus Safety

In the late ’70s, several states began using warning lights on school buses to signal to other drivers of an upcoming drop off of students. Then, came the addition of the flashing lights on the buses’ STOP arms to further prevent drivers from passing a stopped bus. But, have you ever wondered why school buses don’t have seat belts? Well, the answer may come as a bit of a surprise.

In 1977, school bus seating was originally designed based on a ‘Compartmentalization model‘. AKA, the passive form of safety restraint that relies on closely spaced, high-back padded seats. Essentially, this means that school buses were designed to keep kids safe without the need for seat belts. Here are some additional elements of compartmentalization school bus safety:

  • Seats in a school bus are higher off the ground, so most other vehicles are below the children’s feet.
  • Seats are placed closer together to create a safe zone.
  • The highly padded seats and back create a compartment for the kids in the event of an accident.
  • Windows are placed high above the students heads.
  • To prevent ejection, there are no doors or windshields close to the students.
  • The National Academy of Sciences and The National Transportation Safety Board both conducted studies concluding that this seating model is sufficient enough to protect students in the event of an accident.

Ride in Style With Chesapeake Charter

So, there you have it, friends! Now, let’s all go to Amazon and order some school bus yellow paint so we can pretend our kids will actually go back to school at some point!

Moreover, when schools finally open up again, call on Chesapeake Charter for field trip transportation. Our drivers are certified professionals and are compliant with all DOT regulations. We are also the most recommended and used school bus charter company through Anne Arundel County and beyond. Call us today or request a quote online. Cheers to a successful new school year with plenty of exciting school field trips!