By Spencer Kosior
A new survey from Boston-based Beacon Research shows that Massachusetts residents would likely vote in favor of an update to the Motor Vehicle Right to Repair Act passed in 2013.
The update would require automotive manufacturers give drivers and independent repair technicians access to a vehicle’s telematic data. This is performance and diagnostic information that is wirelessly, and instantaneously, transmitted to authorized dealerships. Inability to access this data means the scope of repairs that can be done on modern cars is limited. It is predicted that about 90% of new automobiles will rely on this technology by 2020, according to the Massachusetts Right to Repair Coalition.
“The fear is that wireless technology will bypass independent repair shops and funnel the majority of consumer business to dealers and manufacturers,” says Mary Maguire, director of public and legislative affairs for AAA Northeast.
Taken in June, The poll surveyed 1,275 Massachusetts residents. From the people surveyed, 76% would support a ballot question in favor of updating the 6-year-old law.
Forty-nine percent of surveyed supporters want Right to Repair updated because they want to give drivers access to their car’s data. Maguire says that updating the law will give consumers more choice. It would give motorists the ability to choose what course of action to take for servicing or repairing their vehicle instead of always needing to go to a dealer or manufacturer—especially since modern cars cannot be serviced or repaired by the driver, she says.
“It becomes very difficult for the layperson to do at-home car repair due to the level of computerization and sophistication in new cars,” says Maguire.
She is referring to how motorists currently cannot access their vehicle’s telematic data—the technology mentioned earlier. It impacts a consumer’s right to conduct their business where ever they wish—limiting price points for those who like to bargain hunt. Ten percent of surveyed supporters want the Right to Repair ballot question added because they believe it would save them money on repairs.
On Beacon Hill, at least 12 legislators from both sides of the aisle in the House and Senate have independently sponsored proposals to update Right to Repair—no amendments have been made to the law since it passed in from a 2012 ballot question. Only 15% of people from Beacon Research’s survey prefer the law not be updated.
Of the people who support a Right to Repair ballot question in 2020, 28% percent say their main reason for doing so is because they want to give independent mechanics the ability to fix any car.
“If all repairers have access to the same data and information, it levels the playing field and provides motorists with greater choice,” says Maguire.
On August 7, the Massachusetts Right to Repair Coalition submitted a proposal for possible questions for the 2020 ballot. The question would ask voters whether they would support an act to enhance, update and protect the 2013 motor vehicle right to repair law and consumer rights.
Since the 191st session of the state congress commenced in January 2019, three such bills have been sponsored in the Senate while the House has had 12 proposals—15 in all.
Every bill has been referred to the Joint Committee on Consumer Protection and Professional Licensure by the Senate. The House supported the action. No further action, however, has been taken by legislators as of this article’s publishing.
“It’s still too hard to predict the future. We know we have some legislative support, but the legislature has the discretion to create its own schedule.”
Tommy Hickey, a spokesperson and lobbyist for the Massachusetts Right to Repair Coalition, says the group will not proceed with petitioning for a ballot question if the legislature passes any of the proposed bills to update Right to Repair.
“It’s still too hard to predict the future. We know we have some legislative support, but the legislature has the discretion to create its own schedule,” says Hickey when asked about the likelihood of the question appearing on the ballot.
Hickey works for Brian S. Hickey & Associates in Boston. Both the Auto Care Association and the Coalition for Auto Repair Equity support his work. Both groups have donated $45,000 each to Hickey’s firm, however, none of the money has been explicitly designated to support the lobbying effort.
The Coalition for Safe & Secure Data, sponsored by the Alliance of Automobile Manufacturers, opposes the Right to Repair Coalition’s push to update the 2013 law.
Conor Yunits, a spokesperson and lobbyist for the Coalition for Safe &Secure Data, says there is no reason to update the law to allow the kind of access repair advocates are driving for because they already have it. The memorandum of understanding reached from the original Right to Repair law includes plans for how real-time driving data is handled between automakers and repair shops so that mechanics can access the information they need, according to Yunits.
The organizations he represents say the present issue with a new right to repair law is not whether a driver can get their vehicle repaired at a preferred location. The real issue is regulating who can get real-time, remote access to a motorist’s driving data. It is a matter of consumer privacy and cybersecurity.
Conor Yunits and the Coalition for Safe & Secure Data expects a Right to Repair question on the 2020 ballot. Massachusetts will know on September 4 whether the question received enough support to be included on the preliminary list of 2020 ballot questions. Yunits and the coalition he represents are already preparing to oppose it.
“Given the world we live in now, we should be finding ways to keep personal information safe, not exposing it to added risk,” says Yunits.