How school buses became yellow, and some of the safest vehicles on the road

Originally published at:


Seems to me the lack of visibility at the front of the bus was always a grave concern – probably obliviated in this modern era of inexpensive cameras and screens everywhere. There was only one flat-fronted bus in the fleet used by my old high school; seems that was one idea that never took off. There was also that arm that swung out in front to discourage people from crossing the street directly in front of the bus; I think that was only just being introduced by the time I finished.


Design by committee can work. Good to file away somewhere.


Picky point - but it is not true to say the yellow will help even in a driver’s peripheral vision, is it? Your peripheral vision is black and white - and rods are more prevalent then cones in your peripheral vision. Is there nevertheless something about this yellow that is good for periphery - and how?

This article has more info on the specific improvements made in the 70s, and a very interesting discussion of whether it’s worth requiring seatbelts in a vehicle that’s so safe already.

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I’m not sure if it was design by committee or design by a guy who got good input from a focus group.


careful, smart work by folks with deep expertise trying to serve the public

It’ll never catch on (again). And that makes me very depressed.


The other day, I was passed, on the right, by a school bus.

There was some sort of decoration dangling from the rear-view mirror, which is illegal here in California because it’s a visual obstruction, especially of pedestrians at the side of the road.

The driver was talking into a push-to-talk CB-style handheld microphone. Push-to-talk is also illegal in California.

And when it crossed the railroad tracks, it slowed down, but didn’t actually stop, open the door and window and listen, etc.

I found all of this rather surprising in a think-of-the-children world.


As soon as superman outed himself in metropolis congress even made a law that demanded that superheroes - except green lantern - must rescue schoolbusses as top priority.

This made schoolbuses the most safe flyingvehicles as well.


I grew up in Tucson, which has dozens of flat-front buses. They were, and are still, the more common type for carrying large numbers of children. It’s a question of carrying capacity. The shorter buses have doghouses on front.

The STOP flag that hinges out on the left side was rectangular in the sixties; by the late seventies, it became an octagonal stop sign; by the nineties it had gained red flashing lights.


“If you get a pure wavelength of one color…and you hit just one cone with it, you’re going to have x amount of transmission of signal to the brain. But if that [wavelength] were to stimulate two cones, you’ll get double the amount of transmission to the brain.”

By that reasoning, if the wavelength were to stimulate three cones – red, green, and blue – you’d get triple the amount. So paint the buses white.

The real reason that yellow is safe is its superior visibility in rain and fog.

I’m not surprised. Companies have a hard time finding and keeping drivers who can pass all of the pre-employment tests in my state. I don’t know if they even test for skills beyond that. Those who get the job have tight schedules and traffic added to the pressure of having lots of well-behaved children seated behind them. :roll_eyes:

If I had a nickel for every speeding school bus I’ve seen, I would be rich. Hell, I’ve been a passenger on speeding buses when I was in grade school. Watching the way that cars navigate around school buses in this area, it’s a wonder there aren’t more accidents.

…but when it came to seatbelts, they were like, naw f*ck it!

Thanks for posting this, interesting read.

We never had seatbelts, and would sit in the back so that when the driver would take it over a big bump, we’d all go flying up in the air and touch the ceiling. Highlight of the day.

They told us the buses were fiery-death traps because of where the gas tanks were positioned. The diesel fumes always made me woozy.

What day is it?


Cool. I still want a Catbus, though.




People used to think this, but that’s not quite accurate.

We now know that virtually every measure of peripheral color perception can be improved by using a suitably large stimulus in the peripheral field. (Here.)

…like a big yellow school bus.

That’s not how the retina deals with white. White stimulates less cones overall for color detection than yellow or green in non-(near total darkness) situations.

If the school bus paint was somehow emitting extremely bright white light, that would be brighter than the light reflected off paint, but that’s not an even comparison. If it’s just paint, yellowish is brighter.


Almost everything complex was designed by committee.

I strongly suspect school bus driver pay has a lot to do with the size of the candidate pool.

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And often compromised.

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