Maine’s Secretary of State Shenna Bellows approved the Maine Right to Repair Coalition’s petition for the creation of a “standardized access platform” for data generated, collected, and transmitted by vehicles to be a referendum on November’s ballot.
The Associated Press reports that Bellows said Tuesday 74,686 signatures were validated for the coalition’s “Automotive Right to Repair” proposal, which is nearly 7,000 more than needed.
The coalition filed an application for a citizens initiative and a draft of proposed legislation with the Secretary of State’s Office in August. Bellows approved the petition in October. Auto repair and parts store operators had 18 months from that time to collect signatures, which had to add up to 10% of the total votes cast in the 2022 gubernatorial election.
Massachusetts’ voter-approved Data Access Law in 2020 also calls for the standardization.
In a Jan. 19 news release, the colation said, “more than 90% of new cars are now equipped to transmit real-time diagnostic and repair information wirelessly only to vehicle manufacturers, threatening the rights of consumers to choose to get the cars they own fixed at trusted independent repair shops or do the work themselves.”
Executive Director Tommy Hickey told RDN on Wednesday that the coalition is looking forward to working with Maine’s legislature to get the bill passed, “but if not, we are fully prepared to go to the ballot in November of this year.”
“We’re going to meet with members of the Transportation Committee and Maine legislature and leadership and explain our side of the story,” he said. “I think they have until June in order to pass it and if not, we’ll begin to campaign for the ballot in November.”
The Alliance for Automotive Innovation (AAI) has said throughout the coalition’s campaign, and repeated again on Wednesday, that it’s “entirely unnecessary.”
“Mainers already can have their car repaired by any repair shop they choose,” AAI said. “And all the information needed to diagnose and repair a vehicle today is also already made available to all vehicle repair shops. But the ballot initiative does pose a real cybersecurity and privacy threat to Maine’s drivers.
“This effort in Maine is commonly (but wrongly) characterized as a fight over vehicle ‘right to repair’ seeking to pit small or independent repair shops against auto manufacturers. That’s not at all what this is about. Automotive right to repair already exists and always will. Unlimited access by national aftermarket manufacturers and retailers to your vehicle telematic data is not right to repair. Don’t conflate the two.”
In an October 2022 memo, AAI states, “Automakers agree and support numerous initiatives to facilitate seamless independent auto service and repair.”
Coalition member Tim Winkeler, who is also president and CEO of VIP Tires & Auto Service, previously described the legislation to RDN as a follow-up to the 2014 Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) signed by representatives of the OEMs and the aftermarket industry, which was prompted by Massachusetts’ original right-to-repair law. The MOU, which safeguards independent shops’ access to OEM repair and maintenance information, has “generally worked well,” he said at the time.
The MOU applies to nearly 99% of all cars and light-duty trucks, including internal combustion engine (ICE), battery electric, and hybrid vehicles, sold in the U.S. every year, according to AAI.
AAI warns in the memo that, if passed, the initiative “would force the manufacturer of your vehicle to provide unrestricted remote data access to your car or truck’s computer – even if that data isn’t required to repair the vehicle (and it isn’t).”
AAI provides more information in its right to repair myth vs. fact sheet.
In response to AAI’s statements and memo, Hickey said on Wednesday that the MOU doesn’t cover wireless vehicle telematics.
“The manufacturers tried this with the Massachusetts ballot. They’re clearly fighting it. When they say that this is already being taken care of, the independent repairers are being shut out of this right now; we know that. That is why it’s so important to get this done now. It needs to become law statutorily.”
The next step is for the coalition’s proposal to go before lawmakers to consider the bill but the AP reports that they “usually send such proposals to voters to decide.”
In November 2020, AAI filed suit in Massachusetts after voters approved the Massachusetts Data Access Law, which would grant access to automaker diagnostic and repair information as well as tools to vehicle owners and independent repair facilities. Though the legislation became effective with the 2022 model year, Massachusetts Attorney General Maura Healey has withheld enforcement of the law while the legal challenge plays out.
In November, AAI asked U.S. District Court Judge Douglas Woodlock to reopen evidence in the case after the Maine initiative, supported by the Auto
Care Association (ACA), was put forward.
The suit remains pending. The most recent development occurred on Feb. 22 when the parties agreed to a joint stipulation that AAI wouldn’t subpoena ACA, who is not a party of the lawsuit, to testify in court and the state agreed to drop its protective order that sought to bar ACA from testifying. The parties also agreed that ACA’s Aaron Lowe will be available for a fact deposition, limited to only certain topics, on or before March 24, 2023 at a time and place that all are satisfied with.
Featured image credit: AndreyPopov/iStock