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A school bus is a type of bus used for transporting children and teenagers to and from school and school events. The first school bus was horse-drawn, introduced in 1827 by George Shillibeer for a Quaker school at Abney Park in Stoke Newington, London, United Kingdom, and was designed to carry 25 children.[1]

In North America, the school bus is a specific type of government-regulated vehicle distinct from other types of buses. Canada and the United States have specially built and equipped school buses; by law these are required to be painted school bus yellow and equipped with various forms of warning and safety devices specific to them. In Europe and other parts of the world, the buses used for transporting students are more closely related to other types of buses than their North American counterparts.

North America

In the United States and Canada, school buses are primarily used to transport students. This service is almost always provided without charge to families. In the U.S., the term busing also refers to the transport of students to other than their closest local schools to increase racial integration. Modern school buses may be equipped with amenities lacking only a few years ago such as stereo systems, air conditioning and higher-headroom roofs — although high-headroom school buses have been an option as early as the mid 1950s.

A late 2000s Blue Bird Vision
A typical North American school bus.
General Statistics

School buses provide an estimated 10 billion student trips each year in the U.S. Every school day, 475,000 school buses transport 25 million children to and from schools and school-related activities. [2] School buses are purchased or leased by some school districts, while other school districts engage the service of school bus contractors to perform this function. Approximately 40% of school districts in the United States use contractors to handle student transportation; in Canada, contractors are used almost universally.[citation needed]



Canadian School Buses
A Canadian school bus with Ecoliers ("Schoolchildren") legend
Blue Bird conventional
Girardin mini bus
In certain parts of Canada, French-language markings are used on the bus.
"Ecoliers" is French for "schoolchildren"; "Arrêt" is French for "Stop".

Canadian school buses are similar to their U.S. counterparts both in terms of overall design and how school systems use them. The largest difference is the adaptation to Canada's bilingual population. In French-speaking Quebec, the signage on the outside of the bus is in French; the front and rear legends read "Ecoliers" (French for "Schoolchildren"), and the stop sign legend may read "Arrêt" (French for "Stop").

Many Canadian-brand school buses are sold in the United States, and there are Canadian-manufactured school buses sold the United States. As of 2010, Canada's only domestic school bus manufacturer is Girardin Minibus. The Corbeil designs made in Canada before the firm's closure in 2008 are now manufactured and sold by Collins Industries in the United States. In Canada, the Blue Bird All American is rebadged as the Blue Bird TX3; in the past, it has also been named the All Canadian and the TC/3000.

The design of student transportation systems in Canada differs slightly than those in the United States; the usage of contractors for transportation operations is much higher among Canadian school districts. School districts rarely provide their own transportation.


Early school buses (19th century-1930)

New 1912 Studebaker school bus for Carbon County, Utah
A school bus from 1912.

Wayne Works, predecessor of Wayne Corporation, was founded in the United States of America in 1837. By 1886, and possibly earlier, it is known that the company was making horse-drawn school carriages which many people referred to as "school hacks", "school cars", "school trucks", or "kid hacks". ("hack" was a term for certain types of horse-drawn carriages.)

Early school buses primarily served rural areas where it was deemed impractical for the young students to walk the distances necessary to get back and forth from school on their own, and were sometimes no more than a truck with perhaps a tarpaulin stretched over the truck bed.

Wayne Works was one of the earliest school bus companies to offer glass in place of the standard canvas curtains in the passenger area long before many "school" bus companies did in the early 1930s[citation needed], although Gillig Bros had invented and patented the design long before.[3] Known as the "California top", the design featured a slightly curved reinforced metal roof, with windows separated by pillars at regular intervals, and each window was adjustable by the use of a latching mechanism.

Industry Standardization (1930-1945)

Children boarding a school bus in 1940.
Early 1940s school bus

The 1930s were a decade where the school bus evolved from an adaptation of existing vehicles into a vehicle type of its own. The "California top" introduced by Gillig was quickly adopted industry-wide. As it was becoming popular in other places in the automotive industry, all-metal body construction became featured by manufacturers as the decade progressed. Unlike automobiles, school buses were still custom-built by each manufacturer, which made their mass production difficult. A 1939 conference organized by Dr. Frank W. Cyr would forever change the design and production of school buses; it was attended by transportation officials, representatives from body and chassis manufacturers, and paint companies.

The conference resulted in a set of 44 standards adopted by all manufacturers (interior dimensions, seating configuration). Many of those standards allowed for consistency between body manufacturers, reducing the complexity of production as well as the price of their products; large-scale production was now possible. Other standards also applied to improving school bus safety. The most recognizable standard was the development of school bus yellow as a standardized school bus color; yellow was the easiest to see in dawn and dusk and constrasted well with black lettering. Yellow (officially National School Bus Glossy Yellow) is now the shade associated with school buses worldwide; although is not a government specification outside of the United States and Canada, school buses outside North America often feature some shade of yellow in part or in whole.

Post-War Growth (1945-1980)

Following World War II, there were movements in Canada and the U.S. to consolidate public schools, leading to an increase in demand for school buses. Rapid urban growth also outpaced school construction; coupled with the population expansion brought on by the baby boomers themselves having children, the need for busing within large urban centres in North America became acute.[citation needed]

To change from primarily a rural form of transportation to something used in both urban and suburban population centers, the school bus of the immediate post-war era was joined by two new variants. Transit-style school buses had increased capabilities (seating capacity, handling) over conventional-style school buses. Small school buses were developed for the transportation of special-needs students in addition routes where larger school buses could not be accomodated.

Transit-Style School Buses
A Crown 90-passenger Supercoach
A transit-style school bus.

In the 1930s, Wayne Works, Crown Coach, Gillig Bros., and other school bus body companies manufactured some transit-style school buses with a relatively flat front-end design; in present-day nomenclature, they are known as Type D school buses. The first transit-style buses were designed in the 1930s, but the design was popularized after World War II. A factor in the rapid rise of transit-style school bus sales in the 1950s (especially on the West Coast) was the Baby Boom generation. School districts were faced with a rapid rise in student counts and were forced to consolidate, buy larger school buses, or both. As a result, the use of the transit style school bus skyrocketed during the mid 1950s.

Crown Coach built the first heavy duty, high capacity, transit style school coach in 1932 and named it the "Supercoach", as many California school districts operated in terrain requiring heavy duty vehicles. In 1959, Gillig Bros. introduced the rear-engine diesel-powered school bus. The C-180 Transit Coach soon afterwards became the most popular rear-engine transit-style school bus on the west coast.

In 1948, Albert L. Luce, founder of the Blue Bird Body Company, developed a transit style design which evolved into the company's All American, the longest-running Type D product line among current manufacturers. However, the conventional Type C design with a truck type hood and front end would dominate U.S. school bus manufacturing into the 21st century.

Small School Buses
A 2010 Girardin MB-II body on a Ford E-350 chassis.
A short (Type A) school bus.

In the early 1960s, conventional-type school buses gained greater capabilities as many of their donor chassis were switched from pickup-type chassis to medium-duty trucks. Although the heavier-duty components allowed for much larger buses, certain urban neighborhoods could not accomodate full-size buses. Initially, conversions of vans into minibuses filled the role of small school buses.

In 1967, the first dedicated small school bus was introduced by Collins Bus[4], followed by the Wayne Busette in 1973. Along with van-based vehicles (known as Type A school buses), the industry developed several products that used the chassis of a delivery van (these are known as Type B buses); the best known of these is the Blue Bird Mini Bird, produced from 1977-2005.

Although small school buses are also used for magnet school programs, transporting exceptionally talented and gifted students, and for many other special purposes where the volume of riders is low, they have become associated in some urban slang usage with riders who have mental disabilities; this association gives them derogatory nicknames like "the short bus".[5] For the transportation of special-needs students, they are often equipped with automated lifts for wheelchair-bound passengers unable to climb steps into the bus.

Other Changes

In 1977, the federal government brought into effect a number of safety regulations that changed how school buses are built. Most visibly, these standards mandated taller seats as well as thick seat padding on the front and back. Under the skin, school buses were now required to be built stronger for improved crashworthiness.

As a result of the 1970s fuel shortages, steps were also taken to improve the fuel economy of school buses. In the 1980s, manufacturers began to include diesel engines as options in conventional and small school buses; previously, diesel engines were considered a premium option only used on transit-style school buses. In the late 1980s, Navistar International became the first chassis manufacturer to phase out gasoline engines completely.

Industry Contraction (1980-2005)

A Ward Volunteer/International Harvester Loadstar (left) and Wayne Lifeguard/Ford B700 (right) photographed in Minnesota.
2 school buses (Ward, left; Wayne, right) in the mid-1970s.

In 1980, there were six major school bus body companies building large school buses in North America:

The "Big Six" manufacturers produced bodies for chassis from four truck manufacturers (Chevrolet, Ford, GMC, and International Harvester) joined by two coach-type school bus builders on the West Coast (Crown and Gillig).

With the baby boom years ending, the school bus manufacturing industry faced over-capacity as companies vied and competed for lower volumes of purchases by school bus contractors, school districts, and several states which purchased their buses in quantity at the state level. With the over-capacity in the industry, many firms struggled to survive.

By the end of 2001, only three of the original "Big Six" had survived. Blue Bird, Thomas, and Ward (as IC Bus; the AmTran brand was phased out in 2002) are also the three current large school bus manufacturers today. Two of these manufacturers (Thomas and IC) are currently subsidiaries of truck manufacturers. AmTran, the predecessor of IC, was purchased by Navistar International in 1991 while Thomas Built Buses was purchased by Freightliner in 1998.

After Carpenter ceased production early in 2001, General Motors and Ford gradually were shut out of the large school bus industry. Ford built its last full-size school bus chassis in 2001; an agreement to supply Blue Bird with bus chassis fell through in 2002. General Motors produced its last full-size school bus chassis in 2003 after a supply agreement with Blue Bird expired and both remaining competitors (IC Corporation and Thomas) were owned wholly by competing truck manufacturers. Today, GM and Ford remain in the industry as the exclusive suppliers of chassis for Type A school buses.

New-Generation Designs (2005-present)

Full-size Buses

In 2004, Thomas introduced the Saf-T-Liner C2, based on the Freightliner M2 Business Class. At Blue Bird, the Vision conventional was introduced in 2004 on a Blue Bird chassis; with that, Blue Bird became the first American school bus manufacturer to produce both its Type C and Type D chassis in-house. In 2008, a redesigned All American was introduced as a 2010 model, showing the most extensive changes to the Blue Bird body design in over 45 years.

Small Buses

In the Type A school bus industry, the end of the 2000s was a period of major changes. Collins Bus Corporation, the largest independent manufacturer of Type A buses, purchased bankrupt Canadian manufacturer Corbeil. Corbeil joined Ohio-based manufacturer Mid Bus as a Collins subsidiary; manufacturing of all 3 product lines was consolidated at the Kansas factory owned by Collins, leaving Girardin Minibus as the lone Canadian bus manufacturer. In late 2009, Blue Bird Corporation and Girardin Minibus entered into a joint venture; to better focus on full-size buses, Blue Bird will phase out its Type A line (in production since 1975) in favor of Girardin-developed products built in Canada.[6]


In the current North American school bus industry, there are seven active manufacturers. Two of them (Blue Bird and Thomas Built Buses) offer a full range of body configurations. Four (Collins, Girardin, Starcraft, and Trans Tech) specialize in small buses, while another (IC Bus) specializes exclusively in full-size buses. In most cases, school bus manufacturers are second stage manufacturers. However, a few school buses (typically those of Type D configuration) have both the body and chassis produced from a single manufacturer.

In November 2009, Starcraft announced a joint venture with Hino Motors to produce full-size school buses, marking the first time in over 20 years that a company has entered the full-size school bus market. The first prototype is scheduled to be available in mid-2010.[7]

Of the manufacturers that no longer produce school buses, several are wholly defunct (Carpenter, Crown Coach, Wayne) while others have been absorbed into different manufacturers. IC Bus is the descendent of both AmTran and Ward; Collins owns and distributes Mid Bus and Corbeil products. Other manufacturers have moved into other enterprises; Gillig Corporation makes buses for mass-transit buyers, while Kenworth lives on as a manufacturer of Class 8 trucks.


The North American school bus industry produces buses in four different body configurations, listed alphabetically (along with trade name):

Type A ("cutaway van") school buses are the smallest types of school buses. [8] They are commonly referred to as "short buses". These buses are also the basis for the Multi-Function School Activity Buses (MFSAB) that are replacing 15-passenger vans as a means of transporting students in non-route service. [9]

A Trans Tech school bus on a 2009-2010 Ford E-450 chassis
Type A school bus
Design Characteristics
  • A bus body placed on a cutaway van chassis with a left-side driver's door.
  • Single or dual rear wheels on drive axle.
  • At least 10 passengers; typical passenger capacity ranges from 16-36 passengers.
  • Type A buses are further classified into two sub-classes based on their gross vehicle weight rating (GVWR).
    • Type A-1: GVWR under 10,000 pounds
    • Type A-2: GVWR over 10,000 pounds (category created in 2004); A-2 buses typically use a medium duty truck as a donor cab and chassis instead of a full-size van.

Type B ("integrated") school buses are larger and heavier than Type A school buses while still smaller than Type C/D buses. Type B buses are less commonly produced today than in the past.[10] Currently, only one model (the BE from IC Bus) is in production.

1995-2000 Blue Bird Mini Bird activity bus on Chevrolet P30 chassis
Type B school (activity) bus
Design Characteristics
  • A bus body mounted to either a stripped chassis or a cowled chassis (conventional).
  • The entrance door is mounted behind the front wheels.
  • In most versions (stripped-chassis models), the engine compartment is located partially inside the passenger compartment next to the driver.
  • GVWR: over 10,000 pounds.
  • Passengers: over 10; typically between 30-36.

Type C ("conventional") school buses are the most common large school buses; as such, these have become the most synonymous with the depiction of large school bus in photography, film, and television. [11]

A 2000-2001 Carpenter Classic on a Navistar International 3800 chassis
Type C school bus
Design Characteristics
  • A bus body mounted to a cowled medium-duty truck chassis (usually supplied from another manufacturer).
  • The entrance door is mounted behind the front wheels.
  • The engine is mounted forward of the windshield
  • GVWR: over 10,000 pounds, typically between 23,000 and 29,500 pounds.
  • Length: maximum 40 feet
  • Passengers: over 10, typically between 36-78.

Type D ("transit") school buses, as the trade name suggests, have origins in motorcoach and transit bus design. However, Type D buses are built to the same safety standards as any other school bus configuration. [12]

2009 Blue Bird All American FE on Blue Bird chassis.
Type D school bus
Design Characteristics
  • A bus body mounted to a separate chassis.
  • The entrance door mounted in front of the front wheels.
  • Single rear axle or (very rarely) tandem rear axles
  • The engine is mounted next to the driver inside the bus (front-engine/ "FE"), in the rear of the bus behind the rearmost seats (rear-engine/ "RE"), or in between the axles underneath the floor ("amidship" or "mid-engine")
    • The last mid-engine Type D school buses were manufactured in 1991 when Crown Coach ceased operations.
  • GVWR: over 10,000 lbs, typically between 25,000 and 36,000 pounds.
  • Length: maximum 40 feet
  • Passengers: over 10, typically between 54-90.

Safety regulation

Most of the changes made to the American school bus over the past 70 years have had to do with safety, in response to progressively more stringent regulations. Along with federal mandates, more advanced engineering has made school buses safer for drivers and passengers alike. Because of their size, school buses have many blind spots which can endanger passengers getting on or off the bus and people standing or walking near it. This safety challenge is addressed through the design and configuration of a bus' windows, body panels, and mirrors. Controversy exists over the effectiveness of seat belts as a restraint system for school bus passengers.

School Bus Yellow

A 1939 school bus seen in a museum display. Its orange color predates the adoption of school bus yellow.

Most school buses were painted yellow beginning in 1939. In April of that year, Dr. Frank W. Cyr, a professor at Teachers College at Columbia University in New York organized a meeting to establish national school bus construction standards, including yellow body paint. It became known officially as "National School Bus Chrome", later renamed "National School Bus Chrome Yellow." The color, which has come to be frequently called simply "school bus yellow", was selected because black lettering on that hue was easiest to see in the semi-darkness of early morning and late afternoon.

The conference met for seven days and the attendees created a total of 45 standards, including specifications regarding body length, ceiling height, and aisle width. Dr. Cyr's conference, funded by a $5,000 grant from the Rockefeller Foundation, was also a landmark event inasmuch as it included transportation officials from all 48 states (at the time), as well as specialists from school bus manufacturing and paint companies. The conference approach to school bus safety, as well as the yellow color, has endured into the 21st century.

Traffic priority

By the mid 1940s, most states had traffic laws requiring motorists to stop for school buses while children were loading or unloading.[citation needed] The justifications for this protocol are:

  • Children, especially the younger ones, have normally not yet developed the mental capacity to fully comprehend the hazards and consequences of street-crossing, and under U.S. tort laws, a child cannot legally be held accountable for negligence. For the same reason, adult crossing guards often are deployed in walking zones between homes and schools.
  • It is impractical in many cases to avoid children crossing the traveled portions of roadways after leaving a school bus or to have an adult accompany them.
  • The size of a school bus generally limits visibility for both the children and motorists during loading and unloading.

Safety Devices

Warning lights

Around 1946, possibly the first system of traffic warning signal lights on school buses was used in Virginia. This comprised a pair of sealed beam units similar to those employed in American headlamps of the time, but with red rather than colorless glass lenses. A motorized rotary switch applied power alternately to the red lights mounted at the left and right of the front and rear of the bus, creating a wig-wag effect. Activation was typically through a mechanical switch attached to the door control. However, on some buses such as Gillig's Transit Coach models and the Kenworth-Pacific School Coach, activation of the roof warning lamp system was through the use of a pressure sensitive switch on a manually-controlled stop paddle lever located to the left of the driver's seat below the window. Whenever the pressure was relieved by extending the stop paddle, the electrical current was activated to the relay.

In later years, electromechanical wig-wag flasher controls were replaced by electronic ones, and the warning lights were increased from four — two front and two rear, all red — to eight — two amber to warn of an impending stop, and two red to indicate a stop in progress, front and rear. Some jurisdictions, such as Wisconsin and Ontario, Canada still do not permit the amber-and-red system; all-red warning systems are still used in such locales. Newer buses with provisions for the amber-and-red eight-lamp system generally use eight red lenses where amber isn't permitted. Plastic lenses were developed in the 1950s, though sealed beams — now with colorless glass lenses — were still most commonly used behind them until the mid 2000s, when light-emitting diodes (LEDs) began supplanting the sealed beams.

School Bus Stop Arm
A school bus photographed with its stop arm deployed.
A school bus stop arm in the stowed position
Stop arms

During the early 1950s, states began to specify a mechanical stop arm which the driver would swing out from the left side of the bus to warn traffic of a stop in progress. The portion of the stop arm protruding in front of traffic was initially a rectangle with "STOP" painted on it. Today, Canada and US Federal Motor Vehicle Safety Standard 217 regulate the specifications of the stop arm as a double-faced regulation octagonal red stop sign at least 45 cm (17.7 in) across, with white border and uppercase legend. It must be retroreflective and/or equipped with alternately-flashing red lights. Alternately, the "STOP" legend itself may also emit red light.[13]

Emergency exits

In addition to the entry door, all school buses have at least one emergency exit door (in rear-engine buses, a window exit) in the rear of the bus. The rear door was a feature retained from when school buses were horse-drawn wagons and the entrance door was rear-mounted to avoid frightening the horses.

Additional exits may be located in the roof (roof hatches), window exits, and/or side emergency exit doors. The number of emergency exits in a school bus depends on the size of the bus(its seating capacity) along with individual state regulations.

Retroreflective markings

Building on the longstanding requirement for school bus yellow, many North American states and provinces — Colorado, for example[14] — call for School Bus Yellow retroreflective conspicuity tape on the sides and rear of buses to mark their length, width, and height. This makes it easier in darkness or poor weather for other drivers to see the bus by the light of their headlamps and correctly perceive its size and position. Federal and Canada Motor Vehicle Safety Standard 217 also requires that yellow, white, or red retroreflective be applied so as to mark all emergency exits, so rescue personnel can quickly find them in darkness.[15]

Strobe lights

Some states such as Illinois,[16] as well as some school districts and bus operators also call for strobe lights on the roof of the bus.

Video cameras

During the past decade, video cameras have become common equipment installed inside school buses, primarily to monitor and record passengers' behavior. Video cameras have also been useful in determining the causes of accidents: on March 28, 2000, a Murray County, Georgia school bus was hit by a CSX freight train at an unsignalled railroad crossing. Three children were killed. The bus driver claimed to have stopped and looked for approaching trains before proceeding across the tracks, as is required by law, but the onboard camera recorded that the bus had in fact not stopped.[17]

Structural integrity

A school bus body photographed after a tornado.

As the school bus evolved as a specialized vehicle in the United States and Canada, concerns arose for the protection of passengers in major traffic collisions. A particular structural weak point in catastrophic school bus crashes was the joints where panels and pieces were fastened together.

Longitudinal steel guard rails had been in use since the 1930s to protect the sides of buses, but behind them on the sides and on the roofs, by the 1960s, all manufacturers were combining many individual steel panels to construct a bus body. These were usually attached by rivets or similar fasteners such as huckbolts.

Around 1967, Ward Body Company of Conway, Arkansas subjected one of their school bus bodies to multiple rollovers, and noted separation at the panel joints, as well as pointing out that many of their competitors were using relatively few rivets. This resulted in new attention by all the body companies to the number and quality of fasteners. Wayne Corporation's crash tests showed the joints to be points of weakness no matter how many fasteners were used, and in 1973 the company began building "Lifeguard" buses with single longitudinal interior and exterior panels for the sides and roof. Eliminating the joints reduced the number of points for potential body separation in a catastrophic impact.

The unit-panel construction reduced body weight, fastener count, and assembly time. However, it required very large roll-form presses and special equipment to handle the enormous panels. In addition, the panels had to be cut to exact length for each bus body order, which varied with the intended seating capacity and order specifications. This created a marketing disadvantage as the Wayne Lifeguard buses required greater manufacturing lead time than bus bodies made up of riveted smaller panels.

1977 safety standards

The focus on structural integrity spurred new requirements in the U.S. Federal Motor Vehicle Safety Standards for school buses, most of which became applicable for school buses on April 1, 1977. These standards are still in effect today.

The emergency door release on a Thomas Saf-T-Liner HDX.

Standard No. 217 - Bus Emergency Exits and Window Retention and Release (Effective September 1, 1973)

This established requirements for bus window retention and release to reduce the likelihood of passenger ejection in crashes, and for emergency exits to facilitate passenger exit in emergencies. It also requires that each school bus have an interlock system to prevent the engine starting if an emergency door is locked, and an alarm that sounds if an emergency door is not fully closed while the engine is running.

Standard No. 220 - School Bus Rollover Protection (Effective April 1, 1977)

This established performance requirements for school bus rollover protection, to reduce deaths and injuries from failure of a school bus body structure to withstand forces encountered in rollover crashes.

Standard No. 221 - School Bus Body Joint Strength (Effective April 1, 1977)

This established requirements for the strength of the body panel joints in school bus bodies, to reduce deaths and injuries resulting from structural collapse of school bus bodies during crashes.

Standard No. 222 - School Bus Passenger Seating and Crash Protection (Effective April 1, 1977)

This established occupant protection requirements for school bus passenger seating and restraining barriers, to reduce deaths and injuries from the impact of school bus occupants against structures within the vehicle during crashes and sudden driving maneuvers.

Standard No. 301 - Fuel System Integrity - School Buses (Effective April 1, 1977)

This specified requirements for the integrity of motor vehicle fuel systems, to reduce the likelihood of fuel spillage and resultant fires during and after crashes.

These new federal standards brought significant change to the design, engineering, and construction of school buses and a substantial improvement in safety performance. Further improvement has resulted from continuing efforts by the U.S. National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) and Transport Canada, as well as by the bus industry and various safety advocates.

Blind zones

School Bus Blind Zones
The crossview mirrors allow drivers to see close to the front corners and in front of the bumper.
Crossview mirrors
School buses are equipped with safety devices to protect pedestrians around the blind spots of a parked bus.

In the United States, approximately ⅔ of students killed outside a school bus are not struck by other vehicles, but by their own bus.[18]

To reduce the driver's blind zones, more sophisticated and comprehensive mirror systems have been developed. On many Type C and D buses, windshields have been significantly enlarged in size to remove obstacles from the driver's lines of sight.

To prevent pedestrians walking so close to the front of the bus that the hood hides them from the driver, buses are now equipped with crossing arms which swing out from the front bumper while the bus is stopped for loading or unloading. These force passengers to walk several feet forward of the bus before they can begin to cross the road in front of it.

Another hazardous area is at the loading door; a drawstring or loose clothing may catch on something as a student gets off. If the driver isn't aware, the student may still be attached to the outside of the bus as it begins to pull away. To reduce this risk, school bus manufacturers have reduced the types of handles and equipment near the stepwell area.[citation needed]

Restraints and Seating

School Bus Seating
View from rear
Side view
Compartmentalization is the premise behind the thick padding and high seatbacks on North American yellow school buses as a means of passive restraint.

Very few school buses are equipped with seat belts, a standard safety feature in cars and light duty passenger vehicles.

In 1977, as provided in Federal Motor Vehicle Standard 222, the U.S. Federal Government required passive restraint and more stringent structural integrity standards for school buses instead of requiring lap seat belts. The passive restraint standards exempted school buses with a gross vehicle weight (GVWR) of over 10,000 pounds from requiring seat belts.

In the 1980s, some school districts in the U.S. installed lap belts and then later removed them, claiming operational and passenger behavior problems. Whether seatbelts should be a requirement remains controversial;[19] they are currently required in at least 4 states:

[20] School buses in Texas will be required to be equipped with seat belts by 2010/2011.[21] Of the states that equip buses with seat belts, New Jersey requires seat belt usage by riders;[citation needed] in other states it is up to the district whether to use seat belts or not.


As a concept, compartmentalization was introduced in 1967 by safety researchers at UCLA. The premise behind compartmentalization is that improved seat design with high-back padded seats spaced close together (a maximum of 24 inches apart front to back [22]) would better contain passengers in the event of a crash.[23] Although not an element of compartmentalization, the UCLA researchers who conducted the 1967 tests on school buses concluded that after high back seats, next in importance to school bus passenger collision safety is the use of a three-point belt, a lap belt or other form of effective restraint. In April 1977, Federal Motor Vehicle Standard 222 changed the design of school bus seats from low metal-backed seats to the thickly-padded seats still in use today.

Environmental compatibility

In theory, school buses reduce pollution in the same manner that carpooling does but on a much larger scale; a single school bus can take take as many as 90 cars off the road at one time. However, buses are not a completely pollution-free method like biking or walking. Some of the drawbacks involved stem from the idling of buses while waiting for students to be unloaded and loaded at bus stops and at school. Since most school buses burn diesel fuel, people standing or walking near the bus are exposed to exhaust fumes, which are believed to lead to health problems.

Some buses have been retrofitted with upgraded emission controls and diesel particulate filters, and new buses are progressively cleaner than the old ones they replace as they must meet more rigorous emissions standards regardless of fuel type.

Alternative Fuels

A Blue Bird Vision equipped with a propane fuel system.

Although diesel fuel is most commonly used in large school buses (and even in many smaller ones), alternatives such as propane, CNG, and hydrogen have been developed to counter the drawbacks that diesel and gasoline-fueled school buses pose to the environment.

In the 1970s and 1980s, as a response to the gas crisis, propane conversions of gasoline engines were made available (most commonly those used in the General Motors B-Series). These conversions fell out of favor due to declining fuel prices and the increasing usage of diesel engines. Currently, Blue Bird Corporation has developed an OEM propane option (an industry first) based on the Vision conventional.[24]
Compressed Natural Gas (CNG)
Compressed natural gas schools buses were introduced by Blue Bird in 1991, and are still an option today using the Cummins ISL-G engine and the All American RE body and chassis.[25] CNG is also available as an option from Thomas Built Buses on the Saf-T-Liner HDX.[26]
Another conversion of existing engine architecture involved the use of methanol as a fuel source. In 1989, Crown Coach introduced the Supercoach Series II, a bus with a Detroit Diesel 6V92 converted to run on methanol instead of diesel. The same powertrain was offered into the 1990s by Carpenter on their Coach RE transit-style bus, but few were sold, and many methanol-fueled engines were later converted to diesel by their operators.

Diesel-Electric and Gas-Electric Hybrids

IC Bus, in collaboration with Enova Systems, unveiled the nation's first hybrid electric school bus in 2006 at the New York Association of Pupil Transportation (NYAPT) Show. The hybrid school bus is claimed to reduce fuel consumption by as much as 40 percent compared to ordinary diesel buses.

Eleven states have joined together for an exploratory purchase of 19 school buses from IC Bus. New York, California, Texas, Florida, Pennsylvania, Virginia, North Carolina, South Carolina, Arkansas, Iowa and Washington will be the first states in the nation to receive these diesel electric hybrid school buses.[citation needed]

In 2009, Collins Bus announced the NexBus, the industry's first hybrid electric Type A school bus. The NexBus utilizes a Ford E-450 chassis with technology from Azure Dynamics Corporation.[27]


Usage as school buses

After a school bus has been withdrawn from regular day-to-day service, it may be used as a substitute for newer buses for any one of a number of reasons, usually because a newer bus is being serviced or needs maintenance, or a regular bus is unavailable (often because of its use for another duty, such as transporting athletes to an event). The older buses are still maintained to comply with all applicable safety standards, but sometimes lack features of newer buses such as air conditioning, radios and tinted windows.

A bus is often completely retired from school service when it becomes no longer cost-effective to keep it in reliable and safe condition. However, some transportation services may have a vehicle replacement schedule that calls for a bus' replacement after it is a certain age, even if the vehicle is in good or excellent condition. Many of these retired school buses are sold to such entities as churches, resorts or camps.

Most states require "School Bus" lettering be covered or removed and warning devices disabled or removed.[citation needed] At least one state prohibits non-school buses from being more than 50% yellow.[citation needed]

Other Uses

School Bus Restoration
A 1955 Kenworth-Pacific school bus
A REO-chassis school bus from the 1940s-1950s; body manufacturer unknown.
A REO school bus
Two retired school buses in various stages of restoration.
Conversion and restoration

Some retired school buses are converted to recreational vehicles (RVs); enthusiasts of this type of vehicle conversion are sometimes called Skoolies. Other retired buses are purchased by enthusiasts or collectors for restoration to as-new condition in the same fashion of any other older vehicle.

Former school buses may also be converted into farm utility vehicles for cattle feeding, fruit orchard maintenance and harvest, and other tasks. Most of the roof and body sides are removed, leaving only a cab for the driver enclosed with a rear wall. This creates a truck with an extremely long, flat bed.

Exported School Buses
Blue Bird TC/2000 in El Salvador
El Salvador
International and Ford conventionals in Guatemala
Retired school buses are sometimes exported outside the United States for use as transit buses.

Some retired school buses are exported to Latin America, Africa, or elsewhere. They are used as school buses, municipal transport, or for the transport of migrant farmworkers. Once they are exported, their new owners often update the color scheme from school bus yellow to a variety of different colors.


Retired school buses are sometimes entered in special demolition derby or figure 8 racing events. Examples of speedways that prominently feature school bus demolition derbies include Waterford Speedbowl in Waterford, Connecticut and Little Valley Speedway.


Since school buses sold for non-school transport are generally older models, they do not offer occupants the same level of safety performance as newer buses. This relative lack of safety performance came under some scrutiny after the 1988 Carrollton bus collision. It involved a church bus which had been originally built and served as a school bus, and was one of the deadliest bus accidents in United States history. The accident resulted in a National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB)[28] investigation and report, as well as extensive media coverage and considerable litigation. Subsequently, many federal, state, and local agencies and bus manufacturers changed regulations, vehicle features, and operating practices.

While pre-1977 buses have been phased out of most school usage in many states, buses from before 1977 can sometimes be found in use as church buses, which are bound by fewer regulations. Alabama, Arkansas, Kentucky, Tennessee, and Virginia[29] are the only American states where school bus stop laws are similarly applied to church buses if equipped with flashing red lights used on school buses, and operated in compliance with school bus laws. Other states may have vehicles marked church buses, but they have no church bus stop laws similar to school bus stop laws.

Outside North America

Outside of North America, the yellow school bus is not as common; buses used for the purpose of student transport are typically closer in design to mass-transit buses. These buses may be painted yellow or other similar shades, but school bus yellow is not a government specification like it is on school buses from the United States or Canada and so is generally seen only on buses imported from North America. School buses outside of North America typically do not have the ability to stop traffic while loading or unloading students; school bus traffic stop laws differ from North American counterparts (if they exist at all).

School buses outside North America
A First Student UK school bus painted in American school bus yellow
United Kingdom
LiAZ bus in school service in Moscow, Russia.
Armored school buses in Israel


In Argentina school buses have an identification and authorization of government in each city. They are orange and are mostly vans, replacing it with old "collective", used to transport passengers.


In Australia, students who live in outer suburban or rural areas often travel on public buses and trains, or on special routes provided by private bus companies. The school services cross subsidise the regular bus routes. In inner city areas, school students travel on government owned route service buses. Students travel on either a public route bus, or a "school special" service. Some private schools have their own buses which are often provided by a school where a private company is unwilling or unable to provide the service.

School Buses in Australia
School buses operated by private contractor Busabout Wagga Wagga.
A school bus from a high school in Melbourne, Victoria.
New South Wales

In New South Wales, Students in years K-3 get free travel regardless of where they live, students in years 4-6 get free travel if they live further than 1.6 kilometres (0.99 mi) from the school, and high school students get free travel only if they live more than 2 kilometres (1.2 mi) from their school.


In Finland, schoolchildren who live more than 5 kilometers away from the nearest school, or have other significant impediments to going to the school, are eligible to either bus or Taxi rides.[30] The school buses and taxis that are used are normal vehicles, typically operated by local companies. Buses that are reserved solely for school busing have "Koulukyyti/Skolskjuts" markings on front and back. School taxis have a triangular sign on the roof. School buses are limited to driving at 80 km/h maximum speed.

Hong Kong

School Buses in Hong Kong
Vehicles used for student transport in Hong Kong are commonly known as "nanny vans".

In Hong Kong, younger students are transported between their homes and schools by "nanny vans". These vehicles are typically van-based and are smaller than a minibus. When nanny vans originated, they were regulated primarily by the schools and the van drivers. Today, in the interest of safety, nanny vans are government-regulated vehicles that run on fixed routes.

United Kingdom

Most UK school buses are ordinary buses that have been brought in for the purpose of moving students to school and back. The buses are not necessarily yellow and can be used for other purposes when not in use for school journeys, though most children use local scheduled bus services. In almost all cases, dedicated school bus services in the UK are contracted out to local bus companies.

School Buses in the United Kingdom
Right-hand drive Blue Bird TC/3000 RE (aka All American RE) school buses in the United Kingdom; these are units imported from the United States.
First Student UK school buses located in Wrexham, Wales.
Mybus school bus in Bingley, West Yorkshire, United Kingdom.
Inner London

In the past, buses belonging to the former Inner London Education Authority were purpose-built. Today, in Inner London many school children travel to school using the ordinary bus service as the bus stops are very close together and travel is free using the Oyster card system.

Switch to dedicated school buses

North American-style yellow school buses (built by European manufacturers) are being introduced under the First Student UK program. A project in West Yorkshire to provide higher-quality school buses with co-ordinated Mybus branding and dedicated yellow buses gained significant mode shift: 64% of primary school users were previously driven by car[31].

See also

External links


  1. ^ "Stoke Newington Quaker Meeting - Early History."
  2. ^ "School Bus Facts". Retrieved December 17, 2009. 
  3. ^ The Gillig Story
  4. ^ "Error: no |title= specified when using {{Cite web}}". Retrieved 2010-02-15.  Corporate webpage with minor history
  5. ^ Urban Dictionary: short bus
  6. ^ "Press Releases/BLUE BIRD AND GIRARDIN ANNOUNCE JOINT VENTURE(2009-10-19)". Retrieved 2010-02-17. 
  7. ^ Ryan Gray (6 November 2009). "Starcraft, Hino Trucks to Partner on Type C School Bus". School Transportation News. STN Media Group. Retrieved 9 November 2009. 
  8. ^ "School Transportation News/FAQs/What does the term Type A school bus mean?". Retrieved January 3, 2010. 
  9. ^ "School Transportation News/FAQs/Why do some school buses look different from others, for example in color?". Retrieved January 3, 2010. 
  10. ^ "School Transportation News/FAQs/What is a Type B school bus?". Retrieved January 3, 2010. 
  11. ^ "School Transportation News/FAQs/Aren't Type C school buses the "original" school bus?". Retrieved January 3, 2010. 
  12. ^ "School Transportation News/FAQs/I see many school buses on the road that resemble transit buses. What are these?". Retrieved January 3, 2010. 
  13. ^ Federal Motor Vehicle Safety Standard 131
  14. ^ Colorado Minimum Standards Governing School Transportation VehiclesPDF (206 KB)
  15. ^ Federal Motor Vehicle Safety Standard 217
  16. ^ Illinois school bus safety standards, Sec. 442.615g
  17. ^ National Transportation Safety Board - Highway Accident Report - NTSB/HAR-01/03
  18. ^ "Protecting Children from Their Own Buses by Mark D. Fisher". Retrieved January 29, 2006. 
  19. ^ "School Transportation News". Retrieved March 13, 2007. 
  20. ^ "School Transportation News/FAQs/Where are seatbelts mandated on large school buses?". Retrieved December 28, 2009. 
  21. ^ Hamilton; Ritter; Anderson; Deshotel; Howard, D. (2007-06-08), HB 323, Texas Legislature,, retrieved 2007-09-01 
  22. ^ "School Transportation News/FAQs/Why are school bus seats spaced so colosely together?". Retrieved December 28, 2009. 
  23. ^ "School Transportation News/FAQs/What exactly does compartmentalization mean?". Retrieved December 28, 2009. 
  24. ^
  25. ^
  26. ^ CNG availability is listed among engine options.
  27. ^
  28. ^ "National Transportation Safety Board". Retrieved December 4, 2005. 
  29. ^ "LIS § 46.2-917.1. School buses hired to transport children.". Code of Virginia. Retrieved December 4, 2005. 
  30. ^ Perusopetuslaki 32 §
  31. ^ Executive Summary – Mybus report on West Yorkshire Metro website, retrieved 2009-10-09


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