National School Bus Lettering

National School Bus Lettering and Decal Standards

Jun 8, 2023

Understanding National School Bus Lettering and Decal Standards

Across the United States, many states embrace these comprehensive standards in their entirety, seeking to maintain consistency and easy identification. Some states opt to utilize the lettering standards exclusively, while others introduce additional, state-specific standards to enhance their unique requirements. Despite these variations at the state level, certain federal standards stand firm and apply to all school buses. For instance, regulations found in the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration’s Federal Motor Vehicle Safety Standard (NHTSA FMVSS) 217, which dictates emergency exit identification, and the National Fire Protection Association (NFPA) 52, governing fuel systems labeling, are stringently adhered to nationwide. These federal standards underscore the collective commitment to ensuring safety and clarity in the operation of school buses across the country.

The lettering and decal information detailed below is drawn directly from the latest “National School Transportation Specifications and Procedures” guide. This guide, crafted by the Sixteenth National Congress on School Transportation, dictates the standards for the minutiae of school bus design and function, ensuring consistency and safety nationwide. Although it’s packed with detail, we’re going to distill it down to focus on school bus lettering, decals, stickers, and reflective striping. Take note that the guide is due for its next revision in 2025.

Identifying Equipment Compartments

Emergency equipment, vital for the safe operation of a school bus, is often stored in enclosed compartments. These compartments must be clearly labeled. The lettering should be no less than one inch high and accurately identify each piece of equipment contained within.

Prominent School Bus Identification

The phrase “SCHOOL BUS” must be prominently displayed in black letters, at least eight inches high, on both the front and rear of the bus or on signs attached thereto. These letters should be placed as high as possible without hindering visibility and must conform to “Series B” of Standard Alphabets for Highway Signs. Further, the “SCHOOL BUS” lettering must have a reflective background, or, optionally, be backlit. Note that multifunction school activity buses (MFSABs) are exempt from these requirements.

Other Required Lettering and Numbering

Additional mandatory information includes the name of the district, the bus company, or the owner of the bus, displayed at the beltline. The bus identification number must be displayed on the front, sides, and rear of the bus.

The exterior of the bus can also display other lettering, numbering, or symbols. These might include a minimum 12-inch high identification number on top of the bus; a 2-inch high label for the battery compartment; symbols, letters, or logos not exceeding 64 square inches near the entrance door; symbols indicating the bus is equipped for students with special needs; lettering related to school bus flashing signal lamps, electronic warning signs, and railroad stop procedures; and identification of the fuel type in 1-inch lettering next to the fuel filler opening.

Reflective Material and Striping

Retroreflective materials are key to making school buses visible, especially under low-light conditions. The front and/or rear bumper may bear two strips of non-contrasting retroreflective material angled 45 degrees downward towards the centerline of the pavement.

The rear of the bus should be marked with strips of retroreflective NSBY (non-school bus yellow) material, in accordance with FMVSS (Federal Motor Vehicle Safety Standards) No. 131 and 217. The “SCHOOL BUS” signs should also be marked with retroreflective NSBY material. The sides of the bus should have at least a 1 ¾ inch retroreflective NSBY strip, extending the length of the bus body, positioned between the floor line and the beltline.

Material Consistency

The materials used for doors, panels, and structural components should have strength equivalent to conventional service and emergency doors. Color, rub rail extensions, lettering, and other exterior features should match adjacent sections of the body for consistency and harmony.

In conclusion, while seemingly minor, the

lettering, decals, stickers, and reflective striping on a school bus play an integral role in ensuring the vehicle’s safety, functionality, and identification. So, next time you see a school bus, take a moment to appreciate these crucial details and the strict standards that govern them.


The safety and visibility of school buses are paramount to ensure the well-being of students during their daily commute. One of the ways to enhance visibility and recognition is through standardized lettering, decals, stickers, and reflective striping on school buses. These markings serve multiple purposes, such as identifying the bus as a school vehicle, indicating emergency exits, and providing important safety warnings. While these standards can vary from state to state, this article delves into the specific guidelines for National School bus and Decal Standards. The specifications discussed here are sourced from the following:

National Highway Traffic Safety Administration

National Congress on School Transportation
National School Transportation Specifications and Procedures