MUNDANE MYSTERIES: The Real Reason For Black Stripes On School Buses

There’s no denying that the color combo of black & yellow make is eye-catching. I mean, just think of bees, caution tape, Stanley tools…lots more. But the black stripes on yellow school buses aren’t just for aesthetics.

Those black stripes that run along the sides & back of the school bus are actually metal “rub rails”, and they act as an extra layer of protection for the thin wall panels of the vehicle. Those rub rails would help absorb the force of a potential collision, while also preventing a car from impacting the whole side of the bus in a crash.

Rub rails are placed at very specific spots on the bus body. The lowest one is installed at same level as the buses interior floor, while the middle one is situated at the level of the bottom of the passenger seats, and the top rail sits at about the same height as either the top of the seats and/or the bottom of the window. That strategic placement would prove useful in the event of a bad crash if the school bus doors and/or windows couldn’t be reached or opened. Because of the rub rails, rescue teams would have a better idea of where to cut into the sides of the bus to be able to evacuate students, and they’d also be able to tell where the impact occurred. For instance, if it were below the bottom rail, then that would mean the impact would’ve occurred below the floor, meaning the bus’s passengers may have avoided the worst of the crash.

Now, some things such as rub rail placement, size, material, color, and other things do vary by state. For instance, here in Maryland (as well as Illinois), they have to be “glossy black.” But other states allow them to match the rest of the bus. Speaking of: the school bus’s color is called “National School Bus Glossy Yellow”, which was chosen because of its eye-catching nature, back in 1939, a group of engineers decided that that particular hue was easiest to see during morning and evening bus rounds. And the black striping provided by the rub rails only makes it even more strikingly visible.

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