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As legal challenge lingers, Mass. AG announces enforcement of auto right-to-repair law

Campbell says she’ll start enforcing the law — approved by voters in 2020 — on June 1

Massachusetts Attorney General Andrea Joy Campbell said Wednesday she will launch enforcement of the right-to-repair law approved by voters in 2020, despite ongoing litigation to overturn it.Mary Schwalm/Associated Press

Massachusetts Attorney General Andrea Joy Campbell says she will begin enforcing the state’s automotive right-to-repair law on June 1, even though a federal court has yet to rule on the legality of the measure, which was passed overwhelmingly by voter referendum in 2020.

“The people of Massachusetts deserve the benefit of the law they approved more than two years ago,” said Campbell, in a notice filed in US District Court in Boston. “Consumers and independent repair shops deserve to know whether they will receive access to vehicle repair data in the manner provided by the law. Auto manufacturers and dealers need to understand their obligations under the law and take action to achieve compliance.”

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The statute requires that automakers who sell cars in Massachusetts must provide consumers and independent repair shops with wireless access to the car’s “telematics” — the digital data governing every aspect of how a vehicle works. This way, independent mechanics can repair these vehicles as readily as authorized dealers.

Not long after voters approved the measure, the Alliance for Automotive Innovation, made up of the world’s major carmakers, filed suit to block it. The carmakers contended that only the federal government has the authority to enact such a law; that obeying the law would make it easier for cyber criminals to steal digital data about vehicles and their owners; and that the industry had been given insufficient time to comply. Federal judge Douglas Woodlock heard arguments in the summer of 2021, but has yet to issue a final ruling. In the meantime, Campbell’s predecessor, now-Governor Maura Healey, repeatedly agreed to refrain from enforcing the law, pending Woodlock’s decision. But Healey always reserved the right to reverse this policy, and it is possible that Woodlock could rule in the three-plus months before Campbell’s move takes effect.

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Because of Campbell’s policy shift, new car dealers starting in June must tell car buyers the kind of data collected by the vehicle’s telematic system, provide the buyer with a way to access that data and the ability to provide access to independent auto repair shops for use in making repairs and performing maintenance. Failure to comply will allow car owners or repair shops to sue carmakers for triple damages or $10,000, whichever is greater.

In October, carmakers informed the court that they had taken no steps to comply with the law, claiming it was impossible to do so. They said the law requires carmakers to use an independent entity to deliver telematic data to repair shops. But the carmakers noted that no such entity has been established, and the companies themselves can’t do it because then it wouldn’t be independent.

It’s unclear whether the automakers will seek an injunction to block enforcement of the law. A representative for the auto industry alliance declined to comment on Campbell’s decision.

But Tommy Hickey, director of the Right to Repair Coalition, praised Campbell’s decision. “It has been more than 2 years since Massachusetts voters approved Right to Repair by a 75-25 margin and and the Attorney General’s action is a breath of fresh air for consumers and the local auto repair market,.” HIckey said.


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