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Portland Press Herald: Maine’s Right-to-Repair Initiative Would Likely Face Legal Challenge

Source: Hannah LaClaire, Portland Press Herald

The effort is based on a law Massachusetts voters passed in 2020 but has yet to be implemented because of a lawsuit filed by the auto industry.

A right-to-repair proposal that a group of independent Maine auto repair shop owners hopes to put on the statewide ballot next year closely mirrors a Massachusetts law that has been mired in litigation since voters there passed it overwhelmingly in 2020.

Maine’s proposal, if it succeeds, would likely face some of the same challenges from automakers, who argue that individual states have no authority to pass such a law. They also say it creates cybersecurity concerns and argue the industry did not have time to modify the technology and comply with the Massachusetts law.

The Maine Automobile Dealers Association and The Alliance for Automotive Innovation, the global group fighting the Massachusetts law, did not respond to requests for interviews Wednesday or Thursday.

The group of Maine auto repair shop owners, their employees and supporters, known as the Right to Repair Coalition, is seeking a statewide referendum in 2023 to require access to the data collected by wireless technology in most new cars and trucks that effectively forces the vehicles’ owners to go to a manufacturer’s dealership to diagnose and fix engine problems. While older vehicle models have plug-in engine diagnostic systems that must be accessible to independent repair shops, new models have wireless technology, also known as telematics, that transmits directly to vehicle manufacturers and is not accessible to independently owned shops.

The Right to Repair Coalition submitted initial paperwork Wednesday to the Maine Secretary of State’s Office and plans to begin collecting signatures in the coming weeks. The group has until Jan. 26 to collect more than 63,000 signatures to qualify for the November 2023 ballot.

Advocates say the Maine ballot initiative would give car and truck owners access to all the diagnostic and repair data generated by their vehicles, and allow them to give it to any dealer, repair shop or automaker that they choose.

“The 2023 Maine ballot initiative would accomplish the same thing as the Massachusetts law, which was passed overwhelmingly by a three-to-one margin (75 percent to 25 percent),” Kate Kahn, spokesperson for the Maine Right to Repair Coalition said in an email Thursday. “This issue is about choice. Consumers want the ability to choose where to take their cars or trucks to be repaired. They do not want to be told they can only take their autos to expensive dealerships.”

Kahn dismissed the arguments made by the manufacturers. “They simply do not want to give up their monopoly on the repair market as they stand to make trillions of dollars by shutting out the aftermarket,” she said.

Massachusetts has been a national leader in fighting repair restrictions. It wasn’t clear Thursday if any other states are moving to adopt versions of the Massachusetts law.

However, groups such as the Washington, D.C.-based CAR Coalition, are pushing for national right-to-repair legislation. A bill introduced this year, known as the REPAIR Act, is pending in the House.

The Massachusetts “Data Law” requires that vehicles sold in the state, beginning with the 2022 model year, be equipped with “an inter-operable, standardized and open access platform” permitting owners, repair shops and others to access telematics data. The proposal from the Maine-based group appears to closely mirror the one passed in Massachusetts.

Automakers spent millions of dollars in an attempt to defeat the Massachusetts initiative. The law still has not been implemented because of the lawsuit filed by the auto industry. The suit is pending before a federal judge in Boston, who has delayed a ruling multiple times. U.S. District Judge Douglas Woodlock announced that he will hold an additional hearing on Sept. 1, though it’s not clear what the reason for the hearing is.

The Alliance for Automotive Innovation argues in its suit that the law allows third-party access to nearly all data generated by vehicles “with negative consequences for consumer privacy, public safety and manufacturers’ federally protected property rights.”

The alliance also argues that the law creates an impossible task for manufacturers. No vehicles are presently equipped with such a platform, which they say would take years to develop and install.

The National Highway Traffic and Safety Administration appears to agree with the automakers group and told Massachusetts legislators in 2020 that the law requires manufacturers to redesign their vehicles in a way that “necessarily introduces cybersecurity risks,” and that doing so safely and effectively within the time frame was impossible.

Some automakers, including Subaru, complied with the Massachusetts law by disabling the transmission of wireless data in their 2022 vehicles sold in the Bay State. That led to unhappy customers who discovered that their new cars lacked the in-car wireless technology that connects them to music, navigation, roadside assistance and crash-avoiding sensors. Features such as remote starters and locks also were affected.

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