Source: Hiawatha Bray, Boston Globe
The two Massachusetts senators say federal guidance “appears to favor Big Auto” over the will of the voters
Massachusetts Senators Elizabeth Warren and Ed Markey are demanding to know why federal regulators earlier this week told major carmakers not to comply with the state’s automotive right-to-repair law.
The law would require carmakers to make it easy for independent auto repair shops to get wireless access to digital data stored on cars, so that they can compete with factory-authorized repair shops. Prior to its enactment by voter referendum in 2020, the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration warned that the measure might pose a safety risk by exposing car owners to a greater risk of vehicle sabotage by cyber criminals. But at the time, the agency did not claim the authority to override state law.
That changed on Tuesday, when the NHTSA sent a letter to 22 car companies warning that they would be in violation of federal car safety law if they complied with the Massachusetts law.
In a letter sent Thursday to the agency and to US Secretary of Transportation Pete Buttigieg, Sens. Warren and Markey demanded an explanation.
“NHTSA’ decision to give auto manufacturers a green light to ignore state law appears to favor Big Auto, undermine the will of Massachusetts voters and the Biden Administration’s competition policy, and raise questions about both the decision process and the substance of the decision by NHTSA’s leadership,” the two Democrats wrote.
They also demanded to know why the agency waited well over two years before taking its stand. “NHTSA sent the June 13 letter with no warning,” the senators wrote, “circumventing the legal process, contradicting a judicial order, undermining Massachusetts voters, harming competition and hurting consumers, and causing unnecessary confusion by raising this novel view two weeks after enforcement of the law began.”
Ever since voters approved it, the law has been tied up in federal court, thanks to a federal lawsuit filed by a consortium of major automakers. Carmakers say that complying with the law would make it easier for cyber criminals to break into vehicle computer systems, which could undermine the vehicles’ safety. They have also argued that no such law can be enacted by any state, because only the federal government has authority over auto safety.
But Massachusetts Attorney General Andrea Joy Campbell has said the state will begin enforcing the law, even though US District Judge Douglas Woodlock has yet to rule in the case.