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Rep. Tyler Stands Her Ground on the House Floor

Updated: Apr 6, 2020

"Boston state rep. explains why she was the sole ‘no’ vote on the hands-free driving bill" writes Nik DeCosta-Klipa of

The Massachusetts House of Representatives passed a hands-free driving bill Tuesday on a near-unanimous vote of 153-to-1.

The sole vote against the proposal — which could reach Gov. Charlie Baker’s desk Wednesday — came from Rep. Chynah Tyler.

“I was proud to stand alone and be your voice on such a sensitive issue topic,” she wrote in a letter to supporters Tuesday.

Tyler, a Democrat who represents a district in Boston stretching from Fenway to Roxbury, says she supports a ban on drivers using hand-held phones and other electronic devices, due to distracted driving’s role as “one of the major causes” of traffic accidents. However, the second-term lawmaker explained that she feared the compromise bill moving through the Legislature didn’t go far enough to address concerns about racial profiling.

“I have heard from many of you about tense interactions with law enforcement while on the road,” Tyler wrote. “As a member of the Public Safety committee, it is my duty to change the narrative and to work towards better relationships with our law enforcement. Collecting data from all traffic stops – regardless of whether they result in a citation – would have ensured that we can [reach] our goal of having unbiased policing.”

Some activists have voiced concerns that a hands-free driving law — which would be enforced as a primary offense — gives police another excuse to pull over people of color. A 2004 study found that more than two-thirds of local police departments in Massachusetts disproportionately pulled over drivers of color.

So in addition to prohibiting the use of hand-held devices while driving, the bill passed Tuesday would require police officers to collect data on each traffic stop they make that results in an arrest, citation, or warning. Among other information, police would have to record the race of the person stopped and that data would be passed on to be compiled and studied by state officials.

Tyler doesn’t think it goes far enough; a Senate version of the bill would have required such data collection on all traffic stops, regardless of whether any written citation or warning is made. And in a floor speech Tuesday, she said it would be difficult to make conclusions about possible racial profiling “looking at a fraction of a data set,” according to the State House News Service.

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