Three U.S. Congress members have asked the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) for a briefing regarding the effect compliance with a controversial “right to repair” Massachusetts state law will have on marketplace competition and consumers.
U.S. Reps Jake Auchincloss (D, MA-04), Marie Gluesenkamp Perez (D, WA-03), and Jared Golden (D, ME-2) made their request in a Dec. 11 letter to Secretary of Transportation Pete Buttigieg and NHTSA Deputy Administrator Sophie Shulman.
The crux of the U.S. right to repair argument is that vehicle, farming machinery, and electronic device OEMs don’t provide the same repair information and tool access to owners and independent repairers as they do to dealers. However, several repair trade organizations have said that’s not the case and is the opposite, including the Alliance for Automotive Innovation (Auto Innovators).
The legislation in question is the Massachusetts Data Access Law, which was passed by a voter referendum in 2020.
R2R has been a hot-button issue in Golden’s state of Maine as well, where a nearly identical law was passed on voter referendum in November. The campaign was operated by the Maine Right to Repair Committee and led by lobbyist Tommy Hickey who also spearheaded the Massachusetts R2R referendum initiative. The Maine campaign was largely funded by out-of-state entities.
Golden, Auchincloss, and Gluesenkamp Perez wrote that, while they appreciate NHTSA’s efforts to address the ongoing right to repair debate, they’re concerned about the “double standard” the Data Access Law will create.
They wrote in response to the suggestion from NHTSA and Massachusetts Attorney General Andrea Campbell that OEMs could allow Bluetooth access to vehicle telematics data within the state. They said the local wireless access could satisfy state and federal laws as well as privacy concerns.
“We are concerned that the path forward NHTSA proposed in its August 22nd letter will entrench manufacturers’ dominance in the repair market in the long run, harm competition, and discourage other states from pursuing comprehensive right to repair legislation,” the lawmakers wrote.
The Data Access Law grants access to not only repair information and data but also vehicle telematics data, spurring privacy violation arguments. Whether a standardized on-board diagnostic system is possible and questions surrounding how the law should be enforced have been ongoing in court since Auto Innovators filed suit against the AG’s Office over the law shortly after it was passed.
To comply, automakers must create “an inter-operable, standardized and open access platform… capable of securely communicating all mechanical data emanating directly from the motor vehicle via direct data connection to the platform.”
Auto Innovators argues in its lawsuit filed against the Massachusetts AG’s Office over the law that OEMs can’t safely and consistently comply with the legislation.
The purported purpose of the platform is to ensure vehicle owners have access to their diagnostic and repair data and the option to provide it to an independent repair facility or class 1 licensed dealer of their choice.
New AG Andrea Campbell began enforcement of the law on June 1.
“NHTSA argues that these risks exist regardless of who is seeking to repair a vehicle and that no person or entity ‘necessarily poses a greater cybersecurity concern than another,'” the Congress members’ letter states. “However, NHTSA has allowed vehicle manufacturers to have remote access to telematic data, while at the same time suggesting that independent repair shops having similar access would pose a risk.
“NHTSA suggests that short-range wireless access, such as via Bluetooth, is a solution that ‘would significantly reduce the cybersecurity risks— and therefore the safety risks — associated with remote access.’ NHTSA is suggesting creating a double standard wherein manufacturers’ long-range remote access is deemed less risky than similar access from an independent repair shop.”
They also wrote that NHTSA’s take on the Massachusetts law “may hurt small businesses and consumers” because it would deter marketplace competition from independent repair shops, giving auto manufacturers “no incentive to price repair parts competitively.”
“…Our constituents understand the importance of supporting small businesses and preserving their right to repair the vehicles they own. The Biden Administration has expressed support for the right to repair precisely because it helps consumers, noting the need for the U.S. to ‘limit powerful equipment manufacturers from restricting people’s ability to use independent repair shops or do DIY repairs.'”
When asked about the Congress members’ letter, NHTSA told Repairer Driven News, “USDOT supports the right to repair and consumers’ ability to choose independent or DIY repairs without compromising safety to themselves or others on our nation’s roads. NHTSA has received the letter and is currently reviewing it.”
Auchincloss, Gluesenkamp Perez, and Golden didn’t respond to questions from RDN by the publication deadline.
Last June, the U.S. Government Accountability Office (GAO) agreed to study R2R concerning light-duty vehicles.
The study was requested by U.S. Rep. Jan Schakowsky, chairwoman of the Consumer Protection and Commerce Subcommittee, who said at the time that federal agencies need guidance on how to balance wider access to data with cybersecurity concerns.
“It is critical that the Federal government ensure consumers have choice in how they repair their vehicles,” Schakowsky wrote in her request. “However, as vehicle technology continues to evolve, ensuring consumers’ right to repair may be complicated by the intersection of other important interests, such as cybersecurity and the impact of copyright protection and exemptions.”
GAO Public Affairs Managing Director Chuck Young told RDN on Friday that work is underway and should be completed in the spring.
“We’ll be looking at how vehicle technologies are affecting competition and consumer choice in the vehicle repair market and also to what extent FTC and NHTSA are monitoring changes to competition and consumer choice in that market,” Young said.
Last month, a bill was introduced in the Massachusetts legislature that seemingly seeks to broaden access consumers and owners have to their vehicle data past what the Data Access Law mandates. Sponsored by Rep. Daniel J. Hunt (D-District 13), the “Access To Motor Vehicle Data Act” would allow “direct, in-vehicle, real-time, intelligible and bi-directional accessibility to motor vehicle data, including but not limited to connected vehicle data and access to electronic control units, through a technology-neutral, standards-based, cybersecure interface which may include, but is not limited to, a wired onboard diagnostics port or a wireless connection.”
The interface would also allow a vehicle owner or a user authorized by the owner “to redirect data to a third party authorized by the motor vehicle owner or erase any and all data that the motor vehicle owner or user directly or electronically inputs into the motor vehicle.”
Featured image credit: drnadig/iStock