New analysis weighs pros, cons of expanding Massachusetts’ Right to Repair law

Center for State Policy Analysis at Tufts University’s Tisch College assesses arguments on Massachusetts Question 1
A car sits on a jack at a repair garage
Image via Pixabay
October 14, 2020

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Robin Smyton

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MEDFORD/SOMERVILLE, Mass. (October 14, 2020)—A report released today by the Center for State Policy Analysis (cSPA) at Tufts University’s Tisch College answers key questions about the risks and benefits of expanding the state's Right to Repair law.

This issue, which will go before voters as Question 1 on the 2020 ballot, would provide independent mechanics greater access to the wireless data collected by modern cars. cSPA’s analysis provides clear, evidence-based explanations of the key issues and stakes in this hotly contested ballot initiative.

Before deciding how to vote on Question 1, Massachusetts residents should consider the following:

  • Modern vehicles use wireless systems, called vehicle telematics, to collect data about driving habits including speeds, brake usage, turning behavior, potholes encountered, and even GPS-tracked details about where drivers travel. This data can then be sent to manufacturers wirelessly and in real time.
     
  • If the ballot question passes, car owners would be able share repair-relevant telematics data with independent repair facilities via a smartphone app.
     
  • While some telematics data is quite sensitive, like GPS history, the ballot question focuses on data that is "related to the diagnosis, repair or maintenance of the vehicle."
     
  • So long as GPS and other privacy-related information is excluded — as it seems to be — concerns about data misuse are greatly diminished. Some risks remain, however, including potential misuse of the system for remotely updating your car.
     
  • Ensuring that independent repair shops have broad access to repair-relevant data can promote competition. However, Question 1 is not likely to produce large, near-term benefits for mechanics, as telematics systems are relatively new and don’t yet contain large amounts of repair-relevant data.
     
  • The deadlines in this ballot initiative are extremely tight, requiring automakers to design and implement a system for sharing telematics data beginning with model year 2022. More time may be required to meet usability and security needs.
     
  • If the ballot question passes, the Massachusetts legislature could smooth implementation by settling open questions and establishing an oversight body to track progress.

Read the full report here.

“With highly technical and contentious ballot initiatives like right to repair, it can be hard for voters to identify the key implications of choosing yes or no," said Evan Horowitz, executive director of cSPA. "Providing usable, non-partisan information on difficult ballot questions is one of the reasons we started cSPA, and we’re glad to be able to share this report with voters."

cSPA remains committed to providing expert, nonpartisan analysis of legislative proposals and ballot questions in Massachusetts. In the coming days, cSPA will be integrating our analysis of the Massachusetts ballot questions into an online guide for voters.

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About Tufts University

Tufts University, located on campuses in Boston, Medford/Somerville and Grafton, Massachusetts, and in Talloires, France, is recognized among the premier research universities in the United States. Tufts enjoys a global reputation for academic excellence and for the preparation of students as leaders in a wide range of professions. A growing number of innovative teaching and research initiatives span all Tufts campuses, and collaboration among the faculty and students in the undergraduate, graduate and professional programs across the university's schools is widely encouraged.