BOSTON -- Legislators are weighing changes to a voter-approved law that would give auto manufacturers more time to comply with requirements to turn over vehicle 'telematics data' to owners and independent repair shop owners.
Question 1 was overwhelmingly approved by voters in the November 2020 elections and modified the state's 'right to repair' law to allow auto repair shops to access "telematics" data from vehicles. A costly ballot fight pitted the nation's automakers against small repair shops backed by the retail parts industry.
But the auto industry is making a last-ditch effort to delay implementation of the changes as it fights to overturn the voter-approved law in federal court.
Two proposals heard by the Legislature's Committee on Consumer Protection and Professional Licensure on Monday, backed by the auto industry, would push back the starting date of the law to the 2025 model year, giving auto manufacturers three more years to comply.
Backers of Question 1 are ripping the efforts to overturn the law and called on lawmakers to reject the proposals to delay its implementation.
"This technology has been available in vehicles since 2014 and there's no reason why this law can't be implemented now," Tommy Hickey, director of the Massachusetts Right to Repair Coalition and Yes on 1 coalition, told the panel.
Hickey says the changes are needed because the existing law -- approved by voters in 2013 -- unfairly allows car makers to use wireless technology to steer business toward dealerships, cutting out small independent repair shops and driving up costs for consumers.
"Massachusetts consumers have spoken, and the law now gives them the right to control their own repair data so that they can get their car fixed where they want," Hickey said in a statement following Monday's hearing. "However, instead of listening to their customers and attempting to comply with the ballot initiative, automakers and dealers filed a baseless, anti-democratic lawsuit."
Automakers argue that the original right to repair law allows for sharing of mechanical data. The companies say the 2020 update allows "unprotected access to vehicle data that goes far beyond what is needed to repair a vehicle."
Following approval of the measure by voters, automakers filed a legal challenge last November in an effort to block the law from taking effect.
A lawsuit filed in U.S. District Court in Boston by the trade group Alliance for Automobile Innovation says the "data law" is unenforceable because it runs afoul of federal law and the Constitution. The outcome of the lawsuit is pending.
"If the data law is allowed to take effect, years of manufacturers’ work and billions of dollars in investment to protect and secure vehicle data will effectively be obliterated," the lawsuit states.
The legal challenge revisits many of the arguments made against the referendum in the campaign, including that it risks safety and compromises personal data.
The lawsuit also claims the referendum "sets an impossible task" for updating car computer systems that could prevent automakers from selling vehicles in Massachusetts.
Spending on Question 1 broke records, with committees on either side pouring nearly $50 million into TV and digital advertising.
While opponents of the measure out-spent supporters, the question still passed by a landslide, 75% to 25%, according to preliminary results.
“After spending $26 million only to be resoundingly defeated at the ballot box, the big automakers and dealers still don’t get it," Hickey said. "Now, they are again trying to thwart the will of the voters and “kick the can down road” by using the Legislature to delay the law’s deadlines."
Christian M. Wade covers the Massachusetts Statehouse for North of Boston Media Group’s newspapers and websites. Email him at firstname.lastname@example.org.