The school bus: A history of safety and innovation

Written by Leonard D'Orlando,

The school season is in full swing which means for people living in the US and Canada school buses are running routes through neighborhoods taking kids to school in the early morning hours and safely returning them home again in the afternoon. Learn more here.

The school bus is believed to be the safest form of “surface transportation” in the U.S. This is important seeing as over 26 million kids use them every year. We're all certainly accustomed to seeing the unmistakable yellow buses, but how did this standard in color come about and what are some other innovations in safety that have evolved over the years.

Where it all started

The history of the school bus can be traced as far back as 1886 when the Wayne Works company made horse-drawn carriages known as “school hacks” or “kid hacks” in Indiana. Before then, children simply walked or rode farm wagons to get to school. By 1914, the automotive industry was beginning to boom, and Wayne Works saw the opportunity to motorize these carriages. The design remained mostly the same as the previous versions, with students sitting along the walls of the bus while facing inward. 

National safety standards created

In 1930, Wayne Works introduced the first all-steel school bus body with safety glass windows. Even with this new more robust and protective structure there was still concern for the safety of the children. This led to a turning point in the history of the school bus in 1939 when Dr. Frank Cyr organized a conference at the University of Manhattan to develop school bus standards.

A total of 44 new national standards were created, determining everything from interior dimensions to seating configurations to the famous yellow color that school buses sport today. The color was chosen because studies had shown yellow was the most eye-catching to human beings and because it was especially visible in the early morning and evening light when school buses usually operate. 

Since then, there have been vast design tweaks, innovations, and improvements made to the school bus.  Today, alternative fuel sources are used to improve efficiency, there is better accessibility and maneuverability for all children, and other important safety features that go far beyond the mechanical stop signal arm are standard on today's school buses.  

Onspot automatic tire chains

The Onspot system is one such safety device that many school districts in cold weather climates rely on.  Weather is often unpredictable and what may start off as a nice morning can sometimes end up with snow or ice conditions being present by the afternoon.  Also for many school districts cancelling school is not always an option as they are faced with winter weather conditions the majority of the school year.  The added traction of the auto chains deployed by the driver with the flip of a switch help to provide safety and security.  To learn more about why school districts use the auto chain system click on the following link. 


Why my school district chose Onspot


Learn more about traction aids for heavy vehicles in thes free resource: Traction aids for heavy vehicles


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Leonard D'Orlando

About Leonard D'Orlando

Leonard has six years with Onspot Automatic Tire Chains in North America. Four years as a field technician on the East Coast and two years as a Regional Sales Manager. During the four years as a field technician Leonard provided install and maintenance training to dealers. Leonard also performed fleet reviews for customers and provided technical service support. An alumnus from the University of Maine, Leonard graduated with a B.A. in English and a concentration in Education. Leonard also attended Texas State Technical College where he earned an associate’s degree in automotive mechanics.


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