School buses are the safest vehicles on the road, according to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration. But how exactly are these enormous yellow contraptions designed and constructed to protect the dozens of children inside?

There are several internal and external features that differentiate school buses from other types of vehicles. These distinct elements both proactively reduce collisions and minimize injuries if a collision does occur. 


The color and design of the school bus makes it highly visible to drivers and pedestrians. Since 1939, buses across the country have been painted an eye-catching yellow.  The vehicles also include flashing lights and stop sign arms, and their size alone makes them hard to miss.


This feature of school bus construction means that large buses can distribute and minimize crash forces, protecting passengers in the event of a collision. School buses include closely spaced seats with seat backs that absorb the energy of an impact. They are also designed with rollover protection and rigid exteriors with high crush standards. 

Legal Protection 

In nearly every state, it is illegal for drivers to pass a school bus when it is stopped with its lights flashing — regardless of the direction from which the driver is approaching. Some school bus laws differ state-to-state. The AAA website features a listing of school bus laws by state. 

School Transportation News estimates that 23.5 million children ride a bus to and from school each day. One student alone may take as many as 4,600 trips on a school bus over the course of their educational career. School buses and school transportation fulfill a critical role in the lives of many students and families, so experts are constantly reviewing school bus safety standards and making improvements. 

The National Congress on School Transportation meets about every five years to vote on updates to school bus standards and operating procedures. In 2020, the conference will take place in May in Des Moines, Iowa. The proposals scheduled to be discussed during this year’s conference can be found here