Why Do School Buses Still Look The Same?

Why Do School Buses Still Look The Same?


Take a look at this
school bus from 1939. 80 years later, it looks
almost exactly the same. Some buses don’t
even have seat belts. Meanwhile, cars have
undergone massive redesigns in that same
time period. How can a vehicle
designed to safely transport kids
seem so out of date? In the US, school
buses transport 26 million kids
every day. Before buses,
kids rode to school in horse-drawn
“school wagons.” By the 1930s,
roads had expanded and more types of
automobiles were available, which meant school
buses were more common. But early school buses
were a hodgepodge of different styles
and types of vehicles. Not great for safety
or cost-effectiveness. Just look at these
New York Times headlines from the ’30s. There were no
universal standards for all buses to follow. But in 1939, all that
started to change. Frank Cyr was a professor
of rural education at Columbia University. He recognized the
role school buses played in rural education,
finding that, “from 1926 to 1938 the number of school buses increased 132%.” Cyr led a conference of
transportation officials, educators, and
school-bus manufacturers. The group came up with the “Minimum standards
for school buses,” a set of 44 rules all
buses should adhere to. This included details like length, aisle width, and even
the iconic yellow color. The group chose yellow because it was the most quickly
identified on the road and the black lettering
stood out even in dim light. A lot of what you see in modern buses was first decided at that conference. But it’s been 80 years. Something must have
changed since then, right? It might not look like it, but there have been a lot
of changes inside the bus, including rollover
protection, safer fuel systems,
and taller seats. Although a few notable
additions do stand out, like wheelchair accessibility, emergency-exit windows,
and the stop-sign arm. So the changes
have been incremental, as opposed to a
huge redesign. But that’s actually
not a problem. Because school buses are the
safest way to get to school. 70 times safer than
a car, according to the National Highway Traffic
Safety Administration. From 2008 to 2017, 71 passengers were killed
in school-bus crashes. Out of 26 million daily riders. In fact, the number of
deaths each year is less than 1% of
nationwide traffic deaths. So, what makes school
buses so safe? Well, you might have
noticed that school buses are big and heavy, over seven times heavier
than a car when filled. That means they can absorb a crash better and passengers feel less force in a crash. Their solid frame also helps
prevent damage in a rollover. But it’s not just their size. The color, flashing lights, and stop signal all help
keep school buses safe. In fact, school buses are the most regulated vehicles on the road. And because they’re all the same, they’re easily recognized, and nearby drivers know
to be extra cautious. A drastic design change,
like the color, could modernize the look. But it might not get the
attention of drivers as quickly. Oh, and if you’re wondering
about the seat belts, big school buses
don’t need them. They use something
called “crash protection through compartmentalization”
to protect riders. Those unassuming seats
are actually designed to absorb the
energy of a crash and cushion the impact. Although eight states currently require seat belts on buses. But the smaller
buses that are closer to the size of a van
do need seat belts. So, the school bus you
rode in as a kid is probably similar to the
one your parents rode in. But changes might be coming. Remember the conference
that Frank Cyr led? It’s now called the National Congress
on School Transportation. It meets about
every five years to vote on changes to
school-bus standards. This year’s topics
could include things like electric buses
and tracking apps. But whether it’s
to save money, reduce pollution, or
modernize the look, all changes have to fulfill
the same basic requirement Frank Cyr had
in 1939. Does this make school
buses safer?