Massachusetts voters to decide on ‘Right to Repair’ revision

October 9, 2020

Keith Goble


Voters in Massachusetts will decide next month whether to revise the state’s “Right to Repair” law.

In place since 2013, the one-of-its-kind rule requires vehicle manufacturers to provide consumers and independent repair shops access to the diagnostic and repair information made available to dealers. Specifically, vehicle owners and independent mechanics were granted access to vehicle computer information used to diagnose problems via a handheld device plugged into a physical port in the vehicle.

The current Right to Repair law, however, does not allow vehicle owners or independent mechanics access to telematics systems.

Expanded access sought

Question 1 on the upcoming fall ballot will ask voters whether manufacturers that sell personal vehicles or commercial vehicles with telematics systems in the state should be required to include a standardized open data platform. The platform would enable vehicle owners and independent repair shops to retrieve mechanical data and run diagnostics through a mobile-based application.

The ballot question defines telematics as “any system in a motor vehicle that collects information generated by the operation of the vehicle and transmits such information … utilizing wireless communications to a remote receiving point where it is stored.”

Common features of telematics in vehicles include collision notification, vehicle diagnostics and emergency assistance.

The rule change would begin with 2022 model year vehicles.

Privacy concerns about Right to Repair

Critics of the ballot question say that creating an open-access platform would make vehicle data vulnerable to hackers.

James Owens, deputy administrator for the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, shared his concerns about Question 1 this summer in a letter to Massachusetts lawmakers.

“While the initiative requires the system to be ‘secure,’ it does not define what that vague term means, nor does it reflect any established best practices or other measures to address cybersecurity risks,” Owens wrote.

He added that the short time frame vehicle manufacturers would have to address cybersecurity concerns would make design and implementation “of any meaningful countermeasure effectively impossible.”

Greater owner control

Supporters say concerns about cybersecurity are overblown. They point out passage of Question 1 would provide access only to mechanical and repair information. Personal information is not included.

Advocates add that change is necessary to allow vehicle owners to shop around for repair work and to level the playing field for independent repair shops. LL

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