While the future of the expanded Right to Repair law in Massachusetts is uncertain, one thing is clear: The issue is back in the spotlight.
The Berkshire Eagle on June 24 published an op-ed demanding answers from NHTSA and U.S. Transportation Secretary Pete Buttigieg after NHTSA told 22 OEMs that complying with the new Massachusetts law – which Massachusetts voters overwhelmingly approved in November 2020 – would put them at odds with federal vehicle-safety regulations.
In a June 13 letter to the automakers, Kerry Kolodziej, NHTSA’s assistant chief counsel for litigation and enforcement, asserts that open remote access to vehicle telematics could make it easier for cybercriminals – here or abroad – to take control of consumers’ cars, trucks and SUVs and cause mayhem. Citing those cybersecurity risks, Kolodziej maintains that the National Traffic and Motor Vehicle Safety Act preempts the Massachusetts Right to Repair law.
“Vehicle manufacturers appear to recognize that vehicles with the open remote access telematics required by the Data Access Law would contain a safety defect,” Kolodziej asserts in the June 13 letter. “Federal law does not allow a manufacturer to sell vehicles that it knows contain a safety defect.”
The Berkshire Eagle, which endorsed the data-access ballot initiative in 2020, is skeptical of NHTSA’s cybersecurity concerns.
“The letter neither provides any proof that such a cyberattack on a vehicle has ever occurred nor explains why the NHTSA apparently has no actionable safety concerns regarding telematics being distributed to countless dealership garages across the country,” the newspaper says in its editorial.
The newspaper also questions NHTSA’s rationale and due diligence supporting its assertions in the letter to the OEMS.
“Was there any consideration for other approaches – such as technical guidance to carmakers regarding secure transmission of telematics – instead of simply stonewalling a state law that endured considerable legal review as part of the ballot initiative process?” the Berkshire Eagle asks in the editorial.
Regarding suggestions that state legislators could modify the law to assuage NHTSA’s cybersecurity concerns, the newspaper laments that tweaking the Right to Repair law would require “more clarity on why telematics being sent to an independent mechanic constitutes a ‘safety defect’ while sending them to a dealer-affiliated garage doesn’t.”
The newspaper concludes: “We hope Transportation Secretary Buttigieg and the NHTSA have some good answers, because the federal government should have a better reason than credulous alignment with big business to undermine Massachusetts’ voters and laws.”