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Right to repair law broadened in Massachusetts

November 13, 2020
Massachusetts voters overwhelmingly approved a ballot question on Nov. 3 to expand the state’s "Right to Repair" law, a decision with potentially far-reaching ramifications in the automotive industry about who has access to the highly proprietary data transmitted by carmakers. The measure amends a landmark 2012 "right to repair" law in the state.
Opponents of the latest Right to Repair initiative, known on ballots as Question 1, conceded defeat shortly after the polls closed. The results showed voters backing that measure by a 3-to-1 margin — 75% to 25%.
Under the newly approved Right to Repair law — which drew at least $43 million in spending, the most for a ballot question in state history — automakers will be required to provide car owners and independent mechanics with access to wireless mechanical data, known as telematics, starting with model year 2022 cars.
The Right to Repair Committee, which had raised at least $24 million to push the measure, framed it as a matter of preserving choices for car owners about where to get their car fixed, and protecting the competitive edge of independent mechanics around the state.
"Tonight is a great victory for the 1,600 independent repair shops here in Massachusetts, and the 40,000 jobs in the aftermarket," said Tommy Hickey, the committee’s director. "It’s pretty clear in the ballot what the will of the voters was."
The vote is likely to rumble quickly through the automotive world, which already has been roiled by the debate about who should have access to the highly proprietary data. It also remains to be seen whether lawmakers amend the ballot question’s language after federal officials raised concerns about its proposed timeline.
The Coalition for Safe and Secure Data, an automaker-backed committee that fiercely opposed the question, conceded after the vote, though it contended the data privacy concerns it had raised remain.
"Today’s vote will do nothing to enhance that right [to repair] — it will only grant real-time, two-way access to your vehicle and increase risk," the group said in a statement.
The new law builds on a measure voters passed in 2012 that first allowed independent repair shops to plug into a car and access the same digital codes that car dealers and their mechanics use to help diagnose problems.
That law, which legislators later tweaked in 2013, prompted automakers to agree to a memorandum of understanding that set similar requirements across the country.
It’s unclear if the industry could follow a similar path on telematics. That system, often found in late-model cars, monitors and remits real-time readings on the vehicle back to the manufacturer, and the type of data can vary between manufacturers.
Under the newly approved law, manufacturers will be required to equip vehicles starting with 2022 models with an open-access platform for that data. Owners could then retrieve the mechanical readings through a mobile app, and grant a local repair shop access to help in repairs.
The debate over the measure quickly evolved into an expensive, and often hyperbolic, advertising war over cybersecurity and drivers’ personal data. The Coalition for Safe and Secure Data, backed by nearly $26 million in contributions from General Motors, Toyota, and other manufacturers, ran a series of ads insinuating that the garage codes to your home could be at risk, or that "domestic violence advocates" say predators could use a car’s data to track their victim’s location.
But cybersecurity experts differed on how much risk the ballot question posed to someone’s data, and several said the claims pushed by automakers veered into exaggeration and "fear-mongering."
The newly passed measure had faced its own questions. It does not specify who will build the app or how it should operate, and the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration has said it is "effectively impossible" for automakers to design, test, and implement a secure approach within the proposal’s time frame.