16 Things I’ve Learned About School Buses in 16 Years

Thomas McMahon
Posted on October 22, 2018

Back in the fall of 2002, I was ready to propose to my girlfriend, but there was one problem: I didn’t have a job.

We had graduated from college earlier that year, and now I was out in the real world, ready to start a career but still looking for the right gig.

My girlfriend’s parents approved of me as a future husband for their daughter, but they advised her to not get engaged until I was gainfully employed (which was wise counsel, I admit).  

As a creative writing major, I didn’t exactly have a world of job opportunities awaiting me. I knew I wanted to write, but I also knew that writing can be a tough field to break into.

Then I found a promising job posting: editorial assistant at a publishing company called Bobit. I got the job, and right off the bat I was given the chance to write articles (among other, less-exciting assignments) for a variety of magazines. One of those publications was all about school buses and the people who operate them.

About two months after I started at Bobit, an opening came up on the staff of School Bus Fleet, and the then-editor gave me a shot at it.

At that point, I didn’t know much about school buses beyond the fact that they’re yellow. And so, with my new role as assistant editor of SBF, thus began my education in the yellow bus world.

Over the past 16 years, I’ve met many outstanding folks who love what they do and have graciously shared their stories, their successes, and their struggles.

Here are some highlights of what I’ve learned in the 16 years since I came on board:

1.    Most importantly, the school bus is the safest way for students to get to and from school, as federal statistics show.

2.    School buses reduce traffic. By the American School Bus Council’s estimate, one yellow bus takes the place of 36 cars.

3.    School buses boost attendance by ensuring transportation for countless students who wouldn’t otherwise have a reliable way to get to school.

4.    According to our own research, there are more than 470,000 school buses in the U.S., and they transport some 26.7 million students daily. That’s more than three times the population of New York City!

5.    Before motorized school buses, horse-drawn wagons called “kid hacks” transported students to school.

6.    Yellow has been the standard color for school buses since 1939, when it was adopted at a conference that would later become known as the National Congress on School Transportation.

7.    The first National School Bus Safety Week, organized by consultant Dick Fischer, took place in 1970.

8.    The first National School Bus Safety Roadeo was held in 1971 in Portland, Oregon. The event is now called the School Bus Driver International Safety Competition.

9.    April 1, 1977, was a momentous date for school bus construction. New federal standards went into effect for emergency exits, roof strength, joint strength, seating, fuel system integrity, and hydraulic brake systems.

10.    The sign above the windshield that says “SCHOOL BUS” is called a headsign.

11.    In the school bus industry, the term “pusher” refers to a rear-engine school bus (not a drug dealer).

12.    “Deadhead” refers to the movement of a bus without passengers (or to a devoted fan of the Grateful Dead).

13.    The requirement for all school bus drivers in the U.S. to obtain a commercial driver’s license went into effect in 1992.

14.    Stop arms have been federally required on all new school buses since 1992.

15.    Those stop arms quite literally mean that other vehicles must stop for the school bus, but many motorists don’t seem to get the message.

16.    The school bus industry is full of people in many roles — drivers, aides, trainers, dispatchers, directors, technicians, manufacturers, and suppliers, to name a few — who are passionate about the part they play in safe student transportation.

That last point is what I’ll miss most. Over the past 16 years, I’ve met many outstanding folks who love what they do and have graciously shared their stories, their successes, and their struggles with me as I reported on the industry for SBF.

As you may have guessed by now, this is my farewell address. I’ve taken a new job in a different field — I’ll be working as director of communications for an organization that’s closer to where I live.

It’s a bittersweet move. I’m excited about the new opportunity, but I’ll miss the terrific team here at Bobit Business Media and all the friends I’ve made in the pupil transportation community.

In the 16 years since I’ve worked on SBF at Bobit, I’ve married the love of my life (with her parents’ approval!), had two kids, moved to the suburbs, and bought a house. Those are some major milestones.

Our older son just started middle school, so he doesn’t get school bus service anymore. That’s disappointing, because he had just recently grown to love the bus (see my February 2018 column).

Of course, I’ll still keep an eye out for school buses transporting their precious cargo each morning as I drive to my new job. Although I won’t still be the editor of a magazine about school buses, I’ll always love the bus.

Take care, and keep in touch. You can reach me at [email protected]

Related Topics: American School Bus Council, National School Bus Safety Week, NCST, safety competition/roadeo

Thomas McMahon Executive Editor
Comments ( 11 )
  • See all comments
  • Tom McMahon

     | about 2 months ago

    Thanks, everyone, for your kind words. I'll miss you. Hope to see you again down the road!

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