One positive outcome from the election this week has been the passage of a major right-to-repair law in Massachusetts. Question 1 requires that Massachusetts vehicle owners and repair facilities be granted “expanded access to mechanical data related to vehicle maintenance and repair.” Beginning in 2022, all manufacturers who wish to sell vehicles in MA must equip those vehicles with an open access data platform.
The new law stipulates that third parties must be able to retrieve information from the vehicle for the purposes of diagnosing problems, repair, and maintenance. Manufacturers are specifically barred from requiring that customers or independent vehicles first seek authorization to access this information unless the authorization process is both completely standardized and administered by someone other than the manufacturer. The law passed with supermajority (75 percent) support.
We’re calling it: Massachusetts Question One has passed with 75% of the popular vote. This will be the most advanced #RightToRepair law in the world, opening wireless automotive diagnostics and unleashing a world of possible apps. https://t.co/ZnFDRrSBmg
— Kyle Wiens (@kwiens) November 4, 2020
iFixit is, as you’d imagine, over the moon. Automakers fought the initiative tooth and claw, relying heavily on the idea of third parties chomping at the bit to steal personal information. While this is true in an absolute sense, it has nothing to do with whether your mechanic should be able to access information that the auto dealer would really prefer you had to access through them.
Massachusetts has been at the forefront of the right-to-repair movement before. In 2012 the state passed a law mandating that vehicle manufacturers share non-proprietary data with customers, which auto manufacturers fulfilled by sharing data across the ODB-II port. It is not yet clear how companies will bring themselves into compliance with the new law, but those rules and procedures will be hammered out now that the law itself is in place.
We’ve seen multiple examples this year of how important right-to-repair laws are. During the critical early phase of the pandemic, when ventilators were the hardest to find and most businesses were shut down, repair techs had to scramble to find ways to access manuals for fixing hospital equipment. Even the military has been negatively impacted by manufacturers’ refusing to share information. Allowing manufacturers to charge for data access has eroded the concept of ownership and cost citizens and businesses colossal amounts of money. The right to repair movement has spread across the country and introduced laws in 20 US states, and been touched on in situations as diverse as the repair of John Deere tractors and the long-term performance of Apple iPhones (not two topics we normally discuss in the same sentence).
There have been noted setbacks, but this achievement in MA should clear the way for broader support nationwide. Typically auto manufacturers have found it cheaper to create one type of vehicle that can be sold under every regulatory regime than to build separate cars for separate markets, and that’s likely to be the case here as well. This law only applies to model years sold in 2022 and after, however, and does not stipulate that vehicles manufactured before 2022 must be retrofitted with this type of system. Vehicles manufactured before this date may not gain the option to have their data pulled in the same fashion.
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