The Houston Independent School District (HISD) has rolled out a new program that will equip school buses with data-recording devices not much unlike the “black boxes” found on airplanes. District officials say the boxes will allow them to reduce maintenance and fuel costs while increasing students’ safety.

Announced Oct. 18 as part of National Bus Safety Week, the program will place the devices in more than one-third of the district’s 1,400 buses this year. The devices are capable of recording data relating to speed, idle time, hard breaking, unsafe stops, excessive accelerating, and other information.

The computerized trip recorders, which are being provided by Zepco Sales & Service Inc. (http://www.zepco.com) of Richardson, Texas, for about $1,000 apiece, were showcased at Longfellow Elementary School by HISD Superintendent Rod Paige and other school district officials.

Information from the Zepco Trip Recorders will be gathered monthly, or after an accident. HISD will use the data to create “report cards” that rate bus drivers’ performance.

Armed with that information, HISD said it will use the devices not just for safety improvements, but also to reduce costs. School officials said that cutting down on speed would lower fuel costs, while reducing hard breaking and excessive mileage would lower maintenance expenses.

According to David Healy, assistant superintendent of HISD’s transportation division, the recorders will be installed randomly in 500 buses this year. More could be added to other buses later if HISD finds them to be cost-effective, he said.