The National Highway Traffic Safety Association (NHTSA) sent a letter to dozens of automakers on Tuesday to explicitly task companies without ignoring a Massachusetts state law related to vehicle telematics and data access, as the agency believes it poses a significant safety concern.
The conflict between state and federal government officials is centered around a measure voted on by state residents back in 2020. The initiative saw revisions to the state’s existing “Right to Repair” laws passed back in 2013, and required automakers to share more of their increasingly sophisticated data repair and procedures with independent service shops. While this is intended to give consumers more competitive options in the vehicle service space, NHTSA has some strong concerns. More specifically, it’s worried that open access to automaker telematics could allow ill-willed individuals to control systems such as steering, acceleration and braking, and even weaponize cars and trucks.
The Alliance for Automotive Innovation, an industry trade group that represents the wishes of large automakers, has asked a federal judge to seek a temporary restraining order barring state officials in Massachusetts from enforcing this policy, and has sued the state. The state will seek to enforce the initiative, as it passed with an overwhelming majority back in 2020.
The Alliance further argues that in order to open access to this sort of information, automakers would have to remove the current crop of cybersecurity measures loaded into vehicle control modules. Automakers like Ford and GM have invested heavily in improving these systems in recent years, coinciding with software-dependent EV development. Some automakers have reportedly raised the idea of disabling telematic functions altogether according to Autoblog, which NHTSA feels brings its own safety concerns.
NHTSA has argued that due to the current structure of federal laws related to vehicle safety, automakers are under no obligation to meet Massachusetts’ state ruling. The battle will continue to play out in the court system, but don’t expect a lightning quick result. This is ultimately a confrontation that boils down to the State’s rights.
Giving consumers more avenues for automotive repairs is a logical goal, in particular as our vehicles become far more complicated at a rapid pace. Supporters of these actions will often point to the large equipment industry, which has seen its repair services largely siloed off by individual companies. While we don’t want that to happen in the automotive industry, a fully open telematics system might not be the safest way forward at this point in time. Regardless, here’s hoping the lawsuit helps raise some of these important questions on the national scale.
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