Massachusetts’ two U.S. Senators clashed with the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) last week over the federal agency’s letter to auto manufacturers regarding the state’s Right to Repair law.
On June 15, Senators Ed Markey and Elizabeth Warren wrote U.S. Transportation Secretary Pete Buttigieg and NHTSA Deputy Administrator Sophie Shulman regarding “concerns about NHTSA’s recent letter to auto manufacturers advising them not to comply with Massachusetts (Right to Repair).” The Senators said that “NHTSA’s decision to give auto manufacturers a green light to ignore state law appears to favor Big Auto, undermine of the will of Massachusetts voters and the Biden Administration’s competition policy, and raise questions about both the decision process and the substance of the decision by NHTSA’s leadership. The text of the Markey-Warren letter is here.
The June 13 NHTSA letter from their Chief Counsel for Litigation and Enforcement to the Counsel for Vehicle Manufacturers told 22 auto manufacturers that the Massachusetts Right to Repair law is preempted by the National Traffic and Motor Vehicle Safety Act and that their compliance with the law would “conflict with their obligations under the Safety Act.”
“Open access to vehicle manufacturers’ telematics offerings with the ability to remotely send commands allows for manipulation of systems on a vehicle, including safety-critical functions such as steering, acceleration or braking, as well as equipment required by Federal Motor Vehicle Safety Standards such as air bags and electronic stability control,” the NHTSA letter said. “A malicious actor here or abroad could utilize such open access to remotely command vehicles to operate dangerously, including attacking multiple vehicles concurrently. Vehicle crashes, injuries or deaths are foreseeable outcomes of such a situation,” the NHTSA continued.
The Massachusetts Right to Repair law required 2022 model year cars and later that are sold in Massachusetts and utilize a telematics system to have an interoperable, standardized and open access platform. That platform will inform car buyers and their chosen repair shop, through a mobile application, of the data collected by the vehicle. The law was passed with overwhelming public support by voter referendum in 2020.
Subsequently, federal litigation was brought by an automaker-backed group arguing that the law opened the door to cyberattacks, could expose personal information to criminals, carmakers were not given sufficient time to comply and that the state law was pre-empted by federal statute.
Massachusetts delayed enforcement before finally announcing a June 1, 2023, enforcement date even though there is still no ruling in the three-year old litigation. The federal judge hearing the case then blocked an effort by the plaintiffs to prevent the state from enforcing the law.
Right to Repair proponents want to ensure that independent shops have access to a vehicle’s telematics system. The Auto Glass Safety Council was part of the large coalition supporting the initiative for fear that consumer safety could be jeopardized if auto glass service shops did not have access to a vehicle’s essential telematics information prevalent in late model vehicles.
In response to the NHTSA letter, the Right to Repair MA Coalition tweeted saying “On behalf of two million voters and thousands of independent auto repair shops across Massachusetts, we are outraged by the unsolicited, unwarranted, and counterproductive letter from NHTSA that conflicts with the Department of Justice’s statement submitted two years ago in federal court stating that there was no federal preemption. NHTSA’s letter fails to acknowledge the evidence and testimony presented at the trial that demonstrated the viability and security of an open access platform. This is yet another delay tactic the manufacturers are using to thwart the will of their customers, Massachusetts voters who voted 75-25 in favor of their right to get their car repaired where they choose.”