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NHTSA clears way for Right to Repair enforcement in Massachusetts

Aug. 25, 2023
Though previously expressing cybersecurity concerns over the state's data-sharing law, NHTSA now says there is a workable way for independent shops to access diagnostics data.

The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration has sent a letter to the Massachusetts Attorney General indicating there is a way for the Massachusetts Data Access Law to take effect while protecting the interests of automakers. NHTSA previously noted giving independent shops access to telematics devices could allow hackers an entry point to take remote command of steering, acceleration, and braking, but now believes giving remote access in a limited proximity, such as via Bluetooth, would be an acceptable solution.

Another concern NHTSA has is if telematics devices were disabled and the impact on vehicle safety. Now it looks like NHTSA is willing to work toward a compromise, which bodes well for the federal Right to Equitable and Professional Auto Industry Repair (REPAIR) Act.

Read more: Exploring the new 'Right to Repair Pact'

The road to this more modern Right-to-Repair law has been full of legal potholes.

In 2020, Massachusetts voters approved, by an overwhelming margin, a Right-to-Repair ballot initiative that would grant independent vehicle repair shops the same access to certain telematics and diagnostics data that the OEMs and dealerships had. This had national significance as the Bay State's 2012 Right-to-Repair law already influenced automakers to start sharing more repair data with shops. But opponents of the 2020 Massachusetts Data Access Law have worked to stymie enforcement, with Alliance for Automotive Innovation taking legal action. Last May the lobbying group sued the state due to the "irreparable harm" the open data landscape could cause its members.

A few weeks later, the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) than told automakers not to comply due to cybersecurity concerns. NHTSA noted access to telematics devices could allow hackers an entry point to take remote command of steering, acceleration, and braking.

In a press release, the Auto Care Association said that NHTSA concluded that the data access provisions of Right to Repair are not preempted by the Federal Vehicle Safety Act:

"As stated by the attorney general’s office, the evidence presented at the trial in Alliance for Automotive Innovation v. Campbell, No. 20-cv-12090 (D. Mass.), demonstrated that there are multiple approaches by which a vehicle manufacturer might implement the Data Access Law without violating the Federal Vehicle Safety Act or any other federal law. Under the Data Access Law, the types of wireless communication technologies that such a platform might utilize include, but are not limited to, cellular, Wi-Fi and Bluetooth. The Auto Care Association does not support a Bluetooth solution; short range wireless communication does not create the level playing field expected by the voters of Massachusetts."

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