There’s more to driving a school bus than just getting behind the wheel and rolling down the street to your next stop. For one, you must have at least a Class B CDL (Commercial Driver’s License) to become a school bus driver. Not to mention the fact that school buses are heavy, especially standard school buses. How much does a school bus weigh?
The standard, most recognizable school bus is a Type C school bus, and it weighs anywhere between 15,000 lbs and 21,500 lbs when it's completely empty. When it's full of kids, including the bus driver, it can weigh up to 30,000 lbs or as little as 25,000 lbs.
On average, you’re looking at around 12 to 15 tons when the school bus is in operation. That’s a lot of weight to swing around neighborhood streets, especially since side roads are often not as well maintained as the more important highways through town.
What do the different types of school buses weigh?
As the Type C label indicated, there is more than one type. Of course, they all weigh different amounts, whether they’re fully loaded or completely empty. There are six types if you don’t include an A-2 with the Type A bus.
Type A school bus weight
A type-A school bus weighs around 10,000 lbs or 5 tons when it's empty, and it's one of the smaller buses of the different types. At full capacity, it can approach 15,000 lbs but generally falls short of 14,000 lbs or 7 tons.
The type A-2 school bus rarely gets much attention but can fit a few more people. On the low end, it weighs pretty much the same as the standard type A bus. Fill it up with people, and it can push 21,000 lbs or 10.5 tons.
Type B school bus weight
The type-B bus is basically a truck with a rear cab attached to it, and it's painted the traditional yellow/orange color that comprises all school buses today. As small as it looks, it's also heavier than it looks, weighing 8,000 lbs empty and around 15,000 lbs when it's completely full.
Type C school bus weight
The type-C school bus is the one that you will find yourself sitting behind more often than not. This is the school bus that traditionally picks up kids for school and is the most common bus out there. Empty, a type-C school bus weighs 15,000 lbs to 21,500 lbs.
Fill it up with kids on their way to school, and it's closer to 25,000 lbs to 30,000 lbs. There are a few, minor variations on the type-C, which is why there is a pretty large disparity in the empty weight numbers.
Type D school bus weight
The flat front school bus is growing in use throughout the US. While it's certainly not ready to knock the type-C off of its pedestal, it's becoming more and more common today to see a type D bus.
The only major difference between type-D and type-C is that type-D has a flat front. Otherwise, it's roughly the same size and weight. Empty, type-D school buses weigh about 15,000 lbs to 21,500 lbs. With a packed house, it weighs between 25,000 lbs and 30,000 lbs.
Multifunction activity bus
The multifunction activity bus is a little more modern in style, and it isn’t always painted in yellow/orange. This bus is very similar to a type-A, with a more streamlined appearance and similar weight. Empty, a multifunction activity bus is around 10,000 lbs. Full of passengers, it weighs around 15,000 lbs.
Kerb (curb) weight versus GVWR in school buses
All of the given weights for the school buses listed above are kerb weights and semi-GVWRs (Gross Vehicle Weight Ratings). The kerb weight is the weight of the school bus—or any vehicle for that matter—when it is completely empty.
The GVWR of a school bus is its “potential” weight, or how much weight the vehicle can get up to before it is compromised in terms of safety. So, when someone tells you that a bus weighs 15,000 lbs, they are generally referring to its kerb weight.
Kerb weight also factors in either a half or a full tank of gas/diesel. If you hear that a school bus weighs 20,000 GVWR, that’s not an indication of how much it weighs right at this very second. The bus in question may be sitting in a parking lot, completely empty.
The odds are, that the actual weight of a bus may not ever completely match the GVWR, since the GVWR is a single number out of thousands and only an indication of what the bus could weigh, in total, before a single extra pound makes it unsafe.
If someone tells you the GVWR of a school bus, just keep in mind that the number they give you is not actually how much the bus weighs at the moment. School buses are designed to carry a set number of kids. Of course, not every kid weighs the same.
Every day, there are changes to the weight of the bus as some kids don't go to school that day, or some stay after school to participate in an after-school activity.
When it comes to state and federal laws, almost everything is listed in terms of GVWR, more specifically when it comes to Commercial Driver’s License qualifications. So, in the future, when you see the term “GVWR,” that’s not an indicator of the actual weight of the vehicle but a safety limitation.
The below table is how the Federal Highway Administration views things. The entire table is couched in the term “Gross Vehicle Weight Rating” and it also places school buses in classes of vehicles. A school bus’s class is a different category than its type.
|GVWR||Class of Vehicle||GVWR Category|
|6000 lbs or less||Class 1||Light Duty|
|10,000 lbs||Class 2||Light Duty|
|14,000 lbs||Class 3||Medium Duty|
|16,000 lbs||Class 4||Medium Duty|
|19,500 lbs||Class 5||Medium Duty|
|26,000 lbs||Class 6||Medium Duty|
|33,000 lbs||Class 7||Heavy Duty|
|More than 33,000 lbs||Class 8||Heavy Duty|
The standard, type-C school bus falls under the Class 6 category and is considered to be on the upper end of the Medium Duty GVWR category. In fact, The US Census Bureau—for whatever bizarre reason—classifies vehicles as well. The Census Bureau places a type-C school bus in the “Light Heavy Duty class.”
The Federal Motor Vehicle Safety Standards break the types of school buses down even more than just the “types” that we listed above. It also uses GVWR to classify school bus weight instead of using kerb weight.
- Type A1: 14,500 lbs
- Type A2: 14,500 lbs or less than or equal to 21,500 lbs
- Type B1: 10,000 lbs or less
- Type B2: Greater than 10,000 lbs
- Type C: Greater than 21,500 lbs
- Type D: GVWR can be anywhere between 25,000 lbs and 36,000 lbs
- Multifunction Activity Bus: N/A due to the broad variety of types
We did list a weight for the multifunction activity bus above, however, the Federal Motor Vehicle Safety Standards list the bus but do not list a weight due to a variety of different types of what a school might consider being a “multifunctional” bus.
Does a school bus driver have to have a CDL?
If you drive a school bus for a living, you have to obtain a class B CDL license which is based more on your knowledge and ability to drive a certain weight class of vehicle around, not on whether or not there are kids in the bus while you’re driving.
The Class B CDL is a broad CDL, which can include several different vehicle types. However, to drive a school bus, you will have to take specific classes, most of which revolve around the things that you will encounter driving a school bus. A school bus driver will have a Class B CDL with an “S” endorsement on it.
Some states require an “S” endorsement, some require a “P” endorsement, and some require both. The “P” stands for passengers and the “S” stands for school or students. The Class B CDL is a license with a particular focus on a class of GVWR vehicles.
For instance, you can have a Class B CDL, with an “S” and a “P” endorsement and still be qualified to drive dump trucks as well. School bus drivers drive in the mornings and afternoons, so they can make good use of that Class B in the middle of the day, driving something else.
So, there are a lot of different weights to deal with if you’re wondering how much a school bus weighs. If you want to drive one, all school buses are heavy enough to require a Class B CDL or higher, with particular endorsements.
Just remember, whenever someone tells you the weight of a school bus, it's not always an absolute value, in terms of whether or not they are giving you the actual, kerb weight of the bus or the GVWR.