Beginning next Thursday, Massachusetts Attorney General Andrea Joy Campbell plans to start enforcing the state’s automotive right-to-repair law. But this week, the world’s top automakers asked a federal judge to stop her.
The statute requires that automakers who sell cars in Massachusetts provide consumers and independent repair shops with wireless access to the car’s “telematics” — digital information needed to diagnose the vehicle’s performance. With access to the telematics, independent mechanics can repair these vehicles as readily as authorized dealers.
The Alliance for Automotive Innovation, a car industry trade group, sued to block enforcement of the law almost from the moment it was passed by voter referendum in 2020. Ever since, the law has been tied up in the courtroom of US District Judge Douglas Woodlock. Now the alliance has asked Woodlock to grant a temporary injunction that would stop Campbell from enforcing the law until he issues a final ruling in the case.
Campbell’s predecessor, now-Governor Maura Healey, repeatedly refrained from enforcing the law, pending Woodlock’s decision. But Healey always reserved the right to reverse this policy if a ruling took too long.
In March, Campbell said she would start enforcing the law effective June 1. “The people of Massachusetts deserve the benefit of the law they approved more than two years ago,” she said in a document filed with the court.
But the carmakers say that only the federal government has the authority to enact such a law. They claim the law is so poorly drafted that they can’t comply with it, and even if they could, compliance would weaken vehicle security, making it easier for cyber criminals to steal digital data about vehicles and their owners. Two carmakers, Kia and Subaru, have tried to comply with the law by switching off the telematic services in their cars. But the carmakers argue that this deprives consumers of the right to use these features, which include emergency roadside assistance that could potentially save lives.
The alliance repeated some of these arguments in their request for an injunction on Thursday. “Massachusetts drivers should not be exposed to safety risk and deprived of important features in their vehicles until this case can finally be resolved,” the court filing said.
If the attorney general is permitted to enforce the law, her office will issue a public notice informing consumers and auto repair shops of their rights under the law. If someone believes he’s been illegally denied access to automotive data, he can file a complaint with the attorney general, or file a private lawsuit against the carmaker.
Failure to comply could cost the auto company a penalty as high as $10,000 for each violation, according to the law.
Tommy Hickey, director of the Right to Repair Coalition, which supported passage of the law, said that “right now we have over 100 complaints from independent repair shops who can’t access diagnostic information on new vehicles.”
So if the law survives in court, carmakers are likely to face a flood of costly litigation.
Hiawatha Bray can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter @GlobeTechLab.