Gov. Charlie Baker signed a bill setting penalties for distracted driving on Monday.
State Sen. Becca Rausch was the lone vote against the bill in a Nov. 20 vote, saying she was concerned about potential racial profiling at traffic stops.
Rausch, D-Needham, said she “wholeheartedly supports” provisions in the bill that will ban the use of handheld electronic devices such as cellphones while driving. But she felt important safeguards were stricken from the final version of the legislation.
“I really wanted to get to yes on this,” she said.
Her concern, she said, is that a provision in the Senate version of the bill that called for records of all traffic stops be sent to the Department of Public Safety for analysis was removed by a conference committee.
The purpose of gathering that data, she said, would be to see if there are ethnic and gender biases in who gets stopped while driving.
It was replaced by a requirement that only stops that result in citations be forwarded to the state.
“It did not contain a robust data collection provision,” she said.
Advocates often complain that racial and ethnic minorities are disproportionately pulled over by police and those stops often do not result in tickets because the driver has done nothing wrong.
Rausch said other senators expressed the same concerns as her, but voted yes because they support the larger purpose of the bill.
She said it is “always difficult to stand on your own and fly solo,” but she had made a campaign promise to support racial and gender equality when she ran for Senate.
State Sen. Paul Feeney, D-Foxboro, the other area senator, voted in favor of the bill and said it is long overdue.
He said he advocated for the bill by recalling the 2007 case of Jordan Cibley of Foxboro, who was killed while driving and talking to his father on a cellphone.
Cibley’s family has been outspoken on the issue and was in the Senate chamber when the bill passed.
“They have suffered through an unimaginable loss, however, they were also called to action and have advocated for this life-saving bill for years,” Feeney said.
The bill has been proposed many times in recent years, but just now passed the Legislature. Earlier compromise measures banned text messaging and talking on cellphones by teens, but this legislation bans all uses of handheld cellphones.
Hands-free communications and dashboard-mount GPS devices will still be allowed.
The House voted 153-1 in favor of the bill which was signed by Baker.