Backers of a proposed initiative petition that would require vehicle manufacturers to make digital repair information easily accessible took one of their first steps Wednesday toward putting their question before voters next year.
The Right to Repair Coalition, made up of auto repair and parts shops, submitted its first round of paper work to Attorney Genral Maura Healey's office. A handful of groups so far have turned in their question language and first round of signatures, including campaigns that would address gun safety, voting rights for prisoners with felony convictions, and the potential exclusion of abortion services from state-funded health care.
Coalition members said advances in technology mean it's time to update the state's 2013 law ensuring independent repair shops have access to diagnostic information for vehicles.
"As they get newer and newer, the technology is definitely changing and there's more sophisticated technology in the newest cars that we cannot keep up with with the information we have," Dorchester Tire Service owner Alan Saks told reporters outside Healey's office before filing the paperwork with coalition director Tommy Hickey.
"Some of the 2017 models and 2019s that are coming out now, it's a whole different breed of requirement, and we want to be able to take care of our customers," Saks said.
A group including automakers is forming to oppose the initiative, and its spokesman Conor Yunits said the proposed question "is not about information needed to diagnose and repair vehicles."
"This is about third parties that want remote and real-time access to driver information," Yunits said. "Per the right to repair law, all the information needed to diagnose and repair a vehicle is already provided to repair shops, independent repair shops included. To say this is a loophole is a myth."
Wednesday at 5 p.m. is the deadline for potential ballot campaigns to submit initiative petition language and initial 10 signatures to Healey's office so the attorney general can determine if the questions meet constitutional requirements. Healey's certification decisions are expected to be released on Sept. 4.
Other petitions filed with Healey by Tuesday afternoon include a proposed constitutional amendment for the 2022 ballot saying that nothing in the state Constitution requires public funding of abortion; a requirement that all gun owners store their weapon in a certified gun safe; and a constitutional amendment to restore voting rights to otherwise eligible voters incarcerated on felony convictions in Massachusetts.
A referendum in 2000 added to a section of the state Constitution spelling out who is qualified to vote the words "excepting persons who are incarcerated in a correctional facility due to a felony conviction." An attempt to strike that language through a legislative constitutional amendment earned an adverse report from the Judiciary Committee earlier this year.
Massachusetts Prisoners and Organizers Working for Enfranchisement and Restoration (Mass POWER), which is organizing in support of the voting question, said in a Facebook post that prisoners "are some of the most impacted by the policies made and implemented by elected officials, and yet they do not have a say in who is elected."
The backers of initiative petitions that Healey certifies will need to collect 80,239 signatures by Nov. 20, and if they meet that hurdle, the Legislature will have the opportunity to pass the initiative, propose a substitute, or take no action before the next round of signature gathering.
"The Legislature chooses its own schedule," Hickey, of the Right to Repair Coalition, said. "In order to get on the 2020 ballot, we have to certify with the AG's office by tomorrow, so we hope the Legislature takes it up, but if not, we're ready to go to the ballot."
More than 40 Cape Cod independent auto repair shops have joined together as part of the Massachusetts Right to Repair Coalition to support a much-needed update to the Commonwealth’s Right to Repair law. By 2020, advancements in vehicle technology will result in more than 90% of new cars being equipped to transmit real-time diagnostic and repair information wirelessly to vehicle manufacturers, threatening the rights of Massachusetts car consumers to choose to get their cars fixed at trusted independent repair shops or do the work themselves.
The Cape independent repair shops and the Massachusetts Right to Repair Coalition support bipartisan legislation filed in January by twelve State Representatives and two State Senators to update the Commonwealth’s Right to Repair law. The legislation would further protect Massachusetts car owners’ rights to choose where they have their cars repaired, shop around for the best deal, and control who has access to the repair and diagnostic data compiled and transmitted by their car, but has not advanced on Beacon Hill.
“We need Beacon Hill to move more quickly to update the Right to Repair law,” said John Fay of Fay’s Automotive in Provincetown. “We want a hearing so that this common-sense reform can move forward to protect jobs and consumers' rights to shop around for car repairs.
Automakers are starting to use the next generation of wireless technology to shut us out, and that’s bad for drivers,” he continued.
Justin Morrison of Morrison Motor Works in Hyannis added, “In 2012 Massachusetts voted overwhelmingly to force car companies to provide access for car owners and shops like mine to get repair and diagnostic information. This is a simple update to that law to stay ahead of the wireless technology now present in cars and trucks. It should be a no-brainer to update Right to Repair immediately.”
Said Massachusetts Right to Repair Coalition Director Tommy Hickey,
“We are pleased that the coalition is growing on the Cape and throughout the state. Despite the overwhelming 86% vote of support at the ballot in 2012 and the subsequent 2013 law guaranteeing access to independent repair shops, these shops are increasingly facing the prospect of having limited or no access to diagnostic and repair information now that automakers are increasingly restricting access through rapidly expanding wireless technologies in vehicles not covered under current law.”
If independent repair shops can’t get direct access to diagnostic and repair information from the car, then car owners have no choice but to be steered by vehicle manufacturers towards more expensive automaker authorized repair options. The update to the law would also give car owners access to the diagnostic and repair data generated by their car so that they could opt to provide access to any dealer, repair shop, or automaker that they choose during the lifetime of their car.
When mechanics at Ramstrom’s Service Center on West Boylston Street start work on a customer’s car, they reach first for the shiny blue tool chest. But the tool chest doesn’t contain wrenches. It holds thousands of dollars of computers.
“We spend more time using this stuff than using wrenches now,” said Rick Ramstrom, the owner of the shop.
Welcome to the new world of auto repair, where computers shift gears and everything from keys to transmissions depend on code.
But in this new world, there is a dispute over who controls the information that code details.
Independent auto repair shops interviewed said they worry that the information needed to fix any problems with these codes may soon be unavailable, as wireless technology, called telematics, enables cars to communicate directly with manufacturers. The information available now also comes at a cost that some independent repair shops say may be prohibitive.
As a result, independent repair shops, parts stores and consumer groups are reigniting the Right to Repair coalition, which successfully pushed a 2012 ballot initiative and 2013 legislation giving independent auto repair shops the same access to diagnostic information as car manufacturers. The new push is for an update to the law to include telematics.
The Legislature is also getting involved.
Bills pending in the Legislature would require manufacturers to give vehicle owners access to all the wireless information, which consumers could then share with the independent shop of their choosing through a mobile-based app.
Over the 112 years that my family’s tire shop has been open, we have seen incredible technological advances with vehicles. From Model-Ts to Teslas, Wilder Brothers Tire Pros has always kept up with the latest technology to provide our customers with the best service. Our company has survived for more than 100 years, and through countless safety and regulation changes, but now we face our steepest challenge: new wireless technology and how automakers are using it to try to cut independent repair shops out of the repair business.
Big automobile businesses in Detroit are attempting to harm small businesses like mine here in Scituate, by restricting auto repair shops from accessing diagnostic data. Over the last decade, and especially in the last few years, more and more new models have started to be manufactured that transfer diagnostic data back to manufacturers using wireless technology. By 2020, more than 90 percent of new cars will transmit real-time repair information wirelessly, and independent repair shops will have limited or no access.
Automakers are monopolizing this technology so it is only available to them or to their dealerships, preventing shops like mine from being able to properly diagnose vehicles.
In 2012 we told the citizens of Massachusetts about the automakers limiting or restricting small shops from accessing diagnostic and repair information by restricting access to computers that plug into your vehicle. In an overwhelming referendum victory, 86 percent of Bay Staters sided with us, leading to the 2013 Right to Repair law which allows the thousands of small shops in our communities to have the information necessary to fix your vehicles.
The voters wanted it because it allows them to shop around for car repairs and save money. It’s common sense.
But now, in 2019, we are facing the same struggle once again, because of a loophole that does not require automakers to share the wireless diagnostic information. In just a few short years the automakers were able to skirt around the law because of advancements in technology.
They’ve embraced it in order to control diagnostic and repair information so that they make a profit on it.
If the fight cannot be solved legislatively, the Right to Repair Coalition says they will consider going to the ballot in 2020.
“You cannot have a system of information the independent repair shop doesn’t have access to to fix or diagnose a car, especially in newer cars,” said Tommy Hickey, director of the Right to Repair Coalition, which includes independent repair shops, parts stores and consumer groups. “That will put independent repair shops out of businesses going forward.”
A coalition of Massachusetts independent repair shop owners, employees, and consumers today announced support for a much-needed update to the Commonwealth’s Right to Repair law. By 2020, advancements in vehicle technology will result in more than 90% of new cars being equipped to transmit real-time diagnostic and repair information wirelessly to vehicle manufacturers, threatening the rights of Massachusetts car consumers to choose to get their cars fixed at trusted independent repair shops or do the work themselves.
The Massachusetts Right to Repair Coalition supports bipartisan legislation filed in January by twelve State Representatives and two State Senators to update the Commonwealth’s Right to Repair law. The legislation would further protect Massachusetts car owners’ rights to choose where they have their cars repaired, shop around for the best deal, and control who has access to the repair and diagnostic data compiled and transmitted by their car.
The Coalition has launched a grassroots and advertising campaign to educate Massachusetts policymakers, businesses and consumers about the threat that wireless technologies, sometimes referred to as telematics, pose to consumer repair choice and small, local businesses.
Despite the overwhelming 86% vote of support at the ballot in 2012 and the subsequent 2013 law guaranteeing access to independent repair shops, these shops are increasingly facing the prospect of having limited or no access to diagnostic and repair information now that automakers are increasingly restricting access through rapidly expanding wireless technologies in vehicles not covered under current law. If independent repair shops can’t get direct access to diagnostic and repair information from the car, then car owners have no choice but to be steered by vehicle manufacturers towards more expensive automaker authorized repair options.
The update to the law would also give car owners control over the diagnostic and repair data generated by their car so that they could opt to provide access to any dealer, repair shop, or automaker that they choose during the lifetime of their car.
“The Right to Repair law must be updated because automakers are starting to use the next generation of wireless technology to get around our law, shut out independent repair shops, and cost car owners more money,” said Barry Steinberg, owner of Direct Tire in Watertown. “Massachusetts voters voted 86% in 2012 to require car companies to give access to repair information and diagnostics and it has worked. Car owners can comparison shop to save money on repairs, knowing that all repairers can access the data they need to fix the car. Our law needs to keep up with these new technologies that are coming on-line in new car and truck models.”
“Beacon Hill needs to update the law to ensure that it keeps up with technology and that car owners and their trusted, local independent repair shops are not shut out by automakers aiming to maximize their parts and repair profits,” said Glenn Wilder owner of Wilder Brothers Tire Pros in Scituate. “Wireless technology to diagnose and repair vehicles exists today that wasn’t around in 2012, so we need to make this change to protect consumer choice and preserve an open market for auto repairs.”
Steinberg and Wilder are members of the Massachusetts Right to Repair Coalition, a group of Massachusetts independent repair shops, local auto parts stores, trade associations, consumers, and drivers interested in making sure car owners have access to the repair and diagnostic information produced by the vehicle they own.
In 2012, the Right to Repair Coalition helped pass the ballot initiative and law in the Legislature. Members of the Coalition also include the Alliance of Automotive Service Providers of Massachusetts (AASP-MA) the New England Tire and Service Association (NETSA).
Further information and the Coalition’s radio ad may be found at massrighttorepair.org