Why do school buses have white tops? | WDVM25 & DCW50

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AUSTIN (KXAN) – As more schools in central Texas start a new school year, you will no doubt see more of those big yellow buses cruising around your neighborhood picking up and dropping off students.

But these buses are not all yellow, many have painted their roofs white. Why?

According to a 1992 New York Times article recently cited by Accuweather, the color of the roof on a school bus can have a big impact on the temperature inside.

A pilot program in North Carolina in the early 1990s tested the theory that a school bus with a white roof would provide passengers with a cooler experience. The results were profound.

The program found that buses with a white roof had an average interior temperature of 10 degrees cooler as buses with a yellow tip. In the hottest times of the day the difference was up to 17 degrees cooler. Bus drivers also reported improvements in behavior among the children who drove the bus, suggesting that the children were calmer due to the drop in temperature.

Separately, the study found that these two-tone buses were seen as easier by other motorists. In this specific study, orange buses were tested as the second tone.

The disadvantage? Well, school districts back then had to pay hundreds of dollars per bus for a white roof. These school buses were also cooler in winter, but not as strong. The average temperature drop in winter was only 3-4 degrees for white buses compared to the pure yellow type.

North Carolina wasn’t the first state to introduce the use of white roof buses – they are said to have originated in California in the 1970s, about 50 years ago!

In detail: Texas school buses

In the 2016 version of the Department of Public Safety’s School Bus Specifications, there is a section that specifies the color of school buses in Texas. Section 75 is entitled “White Roof” and says “The roof of the bus painted white”.

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