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Why are School Buses Yellow?

Updated on January 14, 2016

Yellow School Bus

School Bus Yellow
School Bus Yellow | Source

Riding the big yellow bus to elementary school is a rite of passage for many children in the US and they are a regular sight on the roads during the school year. In 1939 44 national standards for school buses were introduced, one of those was the color. lnitialy called National School Bus Crome then later National School Bus Glossy Yellow, the color you see today was adopted as the official color. But why was this color chosen?

The Color Yellow

Scientists have found that yellow is the most visible color in a darker environment, making it a good color for the early mornings and evenings when school buses are on the d, a mixture of yellow and orange, combined with the black lettering was picked because it is the easiest hue to see during the the times when buses are on the roads. During winter some buses may be traveling in darkness, depending on the time of their route.

School Buses before 1939

Before 1939 there were no uniform regulations defining any safety aspect of buses. Prior to this date school transportation was a wide variation, often depending where you lived. In both rural and urban areas many students walked to school, in farming communities wagons or sledges were used depending on the weather. There were some formal school transportation vehicles called school hacks or kid hacks, some of which were produced by a company called Wayne Works, others were repurposed from pervious vehicles.

What Happened at the 1939 Conference?

The Conference held at the University of Manhattan by Dr Frank Cyr came about after Cyr travelled the country observing the various types of school bus in operation and any safety precautions that were being used. The Conference attended by transportation officials from all the 48 states in the Union. The consequences of the event was list of 44 national standards for school buses, including specifications regarding body length, ceiling height and aisle width. Most of those standards have changed since 1939, but the color has remained the same.

Bus Using Warning Lights

yellow school bus using warning lights
yellow school bus using warning lights | Source

Other External Safety Features

Amber warning lights, stop sign arm and reflective tape are all other safety features adopted by school bus manufactures. Some states also include strobe lights on the top of the buses for inclement weather. Motorist have to obey a variety of rules when approaching and passing a school bus and the bus zone around school areas.

School Bus with White Roof

Yellow school bus with a white roof
Yellow school bus with a white roof | Source

Why is the Roof White on Some School Buses?

The tops of school buses are often painted white for several reasons, one being the internal temperature of the bus. A New York Times article dated June 17th 1992 references a study in North Carolina to determine if the use of white roof tops impacts the temperature inside the school bus. The study involved testing buses while running and while parked. Thermometers were mounted on the buses and readings were taken 4 times a day during the months from August to December.

It was found that painting the top of the bus white dropped the temperature of the interior an average of 10 degrees in the summer 'with as much as 17 degree difference at peak hours.' It had much less of an impact in the winter months where the temperature only dropped 3 to 4 degrees, not having a dramatic need for extra heating.

The study also found that bus drivers noted the students riding the bus seemed calmer than when the buses had regular yellow tops and student opened the windows to keep cooler. Another consequence of the white tops was greater vehicle safety. The article states that the white tops help to make the buses even more visible to other motorists.


In conclusion it is Federal Law for all school buses to be the same color. The color, along with standardized size and height, cross view driver mirrors, reinforced sides, stop sign arms and other specifications all ensure buses are safe and viable to other motorists.

School Bus Safety

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