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Why School Buses Are Yellow

Have you ever wondered why school buses in the United States are yellow? Of course you have!

Well, back in April 1939, armed with a $5,000 grant from the Rockefeller Foundation, Columbia University Teachers College professor Frank Cyr took a tour of ten states to gauge the extent of school transportation issues. He found that student transportation was in a sorry state – many students had no dependable way to get to school, and the ones who did often traveled in unsafe, unstandardized buses in the over 100,000 school districts that existed back then (in contrast to the roughly 13,000 that exist today). Bus color was one of the huge variations in school transportation that he saw.

Seeing a need to fix this system, Cyr organized a conference that would change the future of school buses forever. School officials and transportation specialists convened to set much-needed standards for buses, including for color, height, and width, as well as safety rules that hadn’t previously been set or that varied by state.

There were many different bus colors in the United States before this conference; several districts even planned to have red, white, and blue buses as a way of promoting patriotism among students. Cyr presented his new options to education officials, a reported “50 shades ranging from lemon yellow to deep orange-red.” The matter was settled quickly. Yellow, or “National School Bus Glossy Yellow,” as it is officially called by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, was chosen for its high visibility and the way it emphasized the bold, black writing that would be on the side of each bus to denote its school district, important factors for vehicles that travel during early morning and late afternoon hours. Thirty-five states made the changes promptly, and every state was on board by 1974.

Dubbed the “father of the yellow school bus,” Frank Cyr has affected the life of anyone who ever rode a school bus or saw that familiar hue pulling up to your stop on a dusky morning.

If you live in the United States, the color of most school buses is not a pure yellow though (like the color of lemons). It’s not the same color as an orange either. The color of a school bus is yellow-orange. This color is a mixture of lemon yellow and orange … like the color of the fruit of a mango.

So why do we still refer to a school bus as yellow? Back in the 1930s in the U.S., school buses were pure yellow. Thus, the term “school bus yellow” came into the English language. Why yellow? The yellow family of colors gets your attention faster than any other color. People notice yellow objects first.

Even when you are looking straight ahead, you can see a yellow object that is not in front of you “in the corners of your eyes” much sooner than any other color, even red. Scientists have determined that lateral peripheral vision for detecting yellows is 1.24 times greater than for red.

Many experts also point out that colors such as yellow or greenish-yellow are more visible to the human eye under dimmer conditions compared to red. In fog or any kind of bad weather, drivers will still be able to see yellow vehicles fairly well.

Not only school buses, but also many earth-moving, road-building and other outdoor machines are yellow to prevent injury if someone accidentally run into one. Many accidents occur on farms and outdoors because the victim saw the moving object too late. If it’s yellow, you have a strong warning!

So, there you have it. School buses are “kinda yellow” in the United States so they are easier to see.

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Portions of this article originally appeared in rd.com.