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With Mass. right to repair law stalled, Congress makes a move

A bill in Washington would give consumers and auto shops better access to car data systems, superseding legal challenges to the 2020 Mass. ballot measure.

Auto mechanic Shaun Cyr, with mobile car repair company Zippity, rolled a tire while working on a car in Watertown.Suzanne Kreiter/Globe staff

With Massachusetts’ controversial automotive “right-to-repair” law still stuck in federal court, the US House of Representatives is once again trying to enact a similar set of standards for the entire nation.

A bipartisan group of legislators is re-introducing the REPAIR Act, filed last year by Democratic Representative Bobby Rush of Illinois. The bill would ensure that consumers and independent car repair shops could get full access to a car’s digital diagnostic information, which is vital for carrying out repairs. This information is already available under the terms of a 2014 voluntary agreement with car makers. But since then, cars have begun to adopt telematic technology that delivers the data over wireless data networks. The new law is intended to ensure that the wireless data are also available.

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In 2020, Massachusetts voters enacted a similar law through a referendum that won overwhelming public support. But the law has been tied up in court ever since, with no end to the proceedings in sight.

A lawsuit filed by a group representing car makers have argued that the authority to issue such a mandate rests only with the federal government, not with Massachusetts. In addition, they also said that the law gave them too little time to comply with its provisions.

One of those provisions is the establishment of a centralized national system where customers and mechanics could access any vehicle’s data. The carmakers said this approach would pose huge cybersecurity risks, citing a similar criticism made by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration. For instance, if hackers compromised such a system, they could gain access to data from every major carmaker.

The legislation in Congress would assert federal control over telematic regulation, overriding the Massachusetts law. It also would require car makers to work with NHTSA to develop a secure means of sharing digital automotive information.

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Hiawatha Bray can be reached at hiawatha.bray@globe.com. Follow him @GlobeTechLab.