NHTSA Tells Automakers Not to Comply with Massachusetts’ Right to Repair Law
Published June 14, 2023
The National Highway and Transportation Safety Authority (NHTSA) on June 13 sent a letter to 22 automakers, telling them not to comply with a Right to Repair law recently enacted in Massachusetts, citing "significant safety concerns."
"While NHTSA has stressed that it is important for consumers to continue to have the ability to choose where to have their vehicles serviced and repaired, consumers must be afforded choice in a manner that does not pose an unreasonable risk to motor vehicle safety," the NHTSA said in the letter.
The law requires automakers to allow access to their vehicles' data, so owners can get them fixed by independent repairers if they choose, rather than be forced to go to dealership service centers.
It was first approved by Massachusetts voters in 2020, but delayed for years by a lawsuit brought by the Alliance for Automotive Innovation, a trade group representing automakers. Finally, in March, Massachusetts Attorney General Andrea Joy Campbell announced she would begin enforcing the law June 1, despite the lack of a decision in the federal lawsuit. A last-minute motion to block the enforcement by the Alliance for Automotive Innovation was denied.
The letter from the NHTSA claims the Massachusetts law is in conflict with and is therefore preempted by the Safety Act, which requires automakers to initiate a recall of vehicles that contain a safety defect---which, according to the NHTSA, includes the open remote access to vehicle telematics required by the state law.
"Open access to vehicle manufacturers’ telematics offerings with the ability to remotely send commands allows for manipulation of systems on a vehicle, including safety-critical functions such as steering, acceleration or braking, as well as equipment required by Federal Motor Vehicle Safety Standards such as air bags and electronic stability control," the NHTSA said. "A malicious actor here or abroad could utilize such open access to remotely command vehicles to operate dangerously, including attacking multiple vehicles concurrently.
"Vehicle crashes, injuries or deaths are foreseeable outcomes of such a situation," the NHTSA said.
The Massachusetts Right to Repair Coalition released a statement condemning the NHTSA's letter, calling it the "latest auto manufacturers' stall tactic."
"On behalf of 2 million voters and thousands of independent auto repair shops across Massachusetts, we are outraged by the unsolicited, unwarranted and counterproductive letter from NHTSA that conflicts with the Department of Justice’s statement submitted two years ago in federal court stating that there was no federal preemption," said Tommy Hickey, executive director of the Right to Repair Coalition. "NHTSA’s letter is irresponsible, having been transmitted without any new evidence and after the conclusion of the federal trial, despite having been asked by the judge to participate in the court proceeding and declining.
"NHTSA’s letter fails to acknowledge the evidence and testimony presented at the trial that demonstrated the viability and security of an open access platform," Hickey continued. "This is yet another delay tactic the manufacturers are using to thwart the will of their customers, Massachusetts voters who voted 75-25 in favor of their right to get their car repaired where they choose. The FTC, the Biden Administration and many members of Congress have all come out in support of Right To Repair."