Mass voters say ‘yes’ to question 1, expanding access to auto repair data

Voters in Massachusetts have passed a voting measure that will expand access to motor vehicle repair data, ignoring dire warnings from automakers who have spent tens of millions of dollars in opposition.

The measure, which appeared as question 1 on the state ballot, will require automakers to share the information they collect wirelessly about the mechanical health of vehicles. This information, called telematics, can help anticipate problems before they arise.

Today, manufacturers sometimes use telematics to trick drivers into scheduling maintenance at dealership service centers. Some independent mechanics and auto parts retailers have screamed scandal, saying dealers have an unfair advantage over local repair shops and car owners who are on hand under the hood.

With the adoption of Question 1, automakers need to make mechanical data available to drivers through a mobile app and, with driver consent, to independent stores through a new database. The change takes effect in model year 2022.

Supporters of Question 1 have touted it as an update to the “right to redress” voting measure that was passed overwhelmingly eight years ago. This 2012 vote ensures that all mechanics, not just those at dealer service centers, can assess problems by connecting to vehicle computer systems through on-board diagnostic ports.

The Massachusetts Right to Repair Committee – which has raised more than $ 24 million, much of it from auto parts companies and mechanics – argued that expanding access to wireless diagnostics is a next step logic.

But automakers have argued that such an expansion is a cybersecurity risk. They helped fund a group called the Coalition for Safe and Secure Data, which has raised more than $ 26 million and aired disturbing TV commercials claiming criminals could exploit the provisions of Question 1 to harm drivers.

“Domestic violence advocates say a sexual predator could use the data to track down their victims,” a narrator said in an ad.

As WBUR reported in September, the claim was misleading; the “lawyers” referenced in the ad spoke not against question 1 in Massachusetts but against a California invoice in 2014. This bill, which was not passed, would have increased access to a wide range of vehicle data, including location information.

The measure recently passed in Massachusetts specifically refers to “mechanical data related to the maintenance and repair of vehicles”.

Other fact checkers reprimand Question 1 opponents to sow fear, and voters seem to have overwhelmingly rejected the idea that the measure is dangerous.

However, the security concerns are not entirely unfounded.

“The ballot initiative is forcing car manufacturers to redesign their vehicles in a
manner that necessarily introduces cybersecurity risks, and to do so within a time frame that makes the design, proof and implementation of any meaningful countermeasures effectively impossible, ”the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration wrote in a letter to lawmakers in July.

Citing this advice, the Boston Globe Editorial Board called Question 1 “far from perfect.” Even though he approved The measure, The Globe said that “the legislature must follow to better regulate telematics and ensure that all connections to vehicles are as safe and secure as possible.”

The question now is what lawmakers will do next.


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Sylvia F. Hernandez

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