The Reason School Buses Are Painted Yellow

When children attend school in America, they learn a few self-evident truths. We're not referring to whatever Thomas Jefferson said in the Declaration of Independence — nobody learns that stuff. We're talking about the self-evident truths about being a student, namely that dogs love the taste of homework, pop quizzes are psychological torture, and school buses are yellow. 

Of course, the fact that something is obviously true doesn't mean you know why it's true. The bit about homework is obvious because dogs eat poop and homework is crappy. And tough pop quizzes fry the brains of everyone but the smartest eggheads without fail. But what about those mustard-colored school buses? Even Ms. Frizzle's magic school bus was yellow, and that thing could literally break every rule of physics you learned in school. To understand why, we have to travel back to 1939, presumably on the aforementioned magic bus. 

The state of transportation was much different back in 1939. Per Business Insider, stop signs were yellow instead of red. Children traveled to school via trucks, horse-drawn wagons, and sometimes dull-colored buses, according to the New York Times, and benchmarks for bus safety varied by state. The requirements for bus construction changed after Columbia University professor Dr. Frank Cyr spearheaded a movement to set national standards. Cyr convened a conference where educators and bus manufacturers hammered out the details of how to make school transportation safer and more uniform throughout the country. This included setting requirements for batteries, brakes, and bus color.

Some administrators advocated painting buses red, white, and blue — not for safety's sake but to make students more patriotic. So it must have miffed the officials when the conference attendees settled on yellow, the color of eggs Benedict Arnold. Unlike flag-colored buses, which students could have pledged allegiance to before pledging allegiance to an actual flag at school, yellow buses were just more eye-catching. 

In fact, yellow is the most eye-catching color, according to Gizmodo. It registers in your peripheral vision 1.24 times faster than the color red. Shortly after the conference a whopping 35 states adopted the yellow — specifically "national school bus glossy yellow" as their official color. By 1974, yellow was the national standard, and even some locations in Canada followed suit.