Children, adults, and student transportation services alike all know the critical importance of practicing school bus safety. Younger children frequently study it, even briefly, in school. Concerned parents do their best to learn how to keep their kids safe, and drivers who work for school bus services, of course, must take entire courses on it to learn how to become a bus driver.


What frequently isn’t taught, however, is how safety practices in school buses—and even school buses themselves—have evolved over time. It may seem strange to think, but the bright yellow bus we all know today wasn’t always an industry standard. Can you imagine a world without school buses?


If not, never fear. Below, American Student Transportation, a Blaine school bus contractor, sheds a little light on what the world was like before school bus services.

Becoming Yellow: How the School Bus as We Know it Came to Be

Forget school buses—before the 1600s, public schools in America weren’t even widely available. Education was optional and mostly provided by local churches or through informal home lessons.


It wasn’t until the early 1600s that colonial governments, realizing that informal education was inadequate, began to build rudimentary public schools. All ages of children were taught in a single room, but only boys were allowed to attend. Pupils weren’t even separated by age until around the year 1848, when the idea was introduced and curriculum became standardized. The first compulsory attendance laws were passed in 1852, with elementary education becoming mandatory in all of the then 48 states by 1912.


The evolution and need for school bus services is intertwined directly with the growth of the public school system. As public school education became mandatory, pupil transportation programs sprung up to facilitate it. The late 1800s saw the birth of the first student transportation services, and by 1910, thirty states had enacted official school transportation programs.


At first, student transportation services were simply horse-drawn buggies, colloquially known as “kid hacks,” that were lent out by local farmers. In the 1920s, however, the Industrial Revolution led to the institution of motorized student transportation vehicles, which were really little more than trucks covered with tarps and with canvas curtains for windows. As the era progressed, however, and paved roadways crept into more smaller towns, the industry grew further, and the first all-steel school bus made in 1930. A standard school bus model, however, did not arise until 1939, at a conference composed of chassis companies, experts in the field of transportation, paint manufacturers, and representatives from all 48 states. Incidentally, this was also the conference at which it was recommended to paint school buses the same shade of bright yellow! This was to ensure visibility during the dawn and dusk hours, as well as good readability of the black lettering on the side.


Demand for these vehicles increased during and after the Baby Boom, for obvious reasons. Now, school buses weren’t just for bussing rural students into school; they also became a prominent fixture in cities and suburban areas. However, by the 1980s, as the children of the Baby Boom aged, the industry shrunk, which, as of 2005, left only three large manufacturers of school buses in business.

How Has Safety Changed?

As school buses became more and more prominent during this era, unfortunately, so did accidents involving them. The aforementioned conference was also held to determine what could be done about this. Between 1939 and 2000, a grand total of twelve of these national conferences have been held, resulting in at least 44 standardizations of school buses being put into effect; the school bus industry takes the safety of its charges very seriously.


Over the years, federal laws have also been passed to ensure the safety of students. These include the 1974 School Bus Safety Act and the 1966 National Traffic and Motor Vehicle Safety Act. These laws are huge and complicated, but they led to the institution of a few of the key school bus safety features we know today:


●        The automatic stop sign. This was required primarily for the safety of pedestrians and children leaving or boarding the bus.

●        Standardized roll-over and joint strength. With the standardization of school buses came the standardization of their crash requirements. All school buses, to this day, must meet federal safety requirements to ensure the well being of their passengers.

●        Wheelchair seating options. These laws dictated that all wheelchair seating options, if available, must be forward-facing and also gave safety standards for the performance of school bus wheelchair restraint systems.

Our Commitment to Safety Remains Unchanging

At American Student Transportation, our commitment to the safety of our charges has remained the same, ever since our founding multiple generations ago. If your district is in need of top-quality school bus services, give our Blaine terminal a call at 651-621-8900.