BOSTON – Bolstered by new poll numbers that show strong support, a coalition of auto repair and parts shops is preparing to take the first step toward putting a question on the 2020 ballot that would require car manufacturers to make digital repair information easily accessible.
The “Right to Repair” coalition remobilized last fall around its push to update the state’s 2013 law ensuring access for independent repairers to vehicle diagnostic information. The expansion of the law, auto shop owners say, is needed to keep pace with technological advancements in cars and trucks.
The coalition plans to submit language to the attorney general next week to secure a spot on the 2020 ballot while it continues to push for action on Beacon Hill. The strategy comes from the same playbook auto shop owners used in 2012 when the threat of a ballot question prompted legislators to pass a law.
Auto repair shop owners say that by 2020 more than 90 percent of new cars and trucks will wirelessly transmit important real-time vehicle diagnostic and performance data to manufacturers, potentially inhibiting their ability to repair cars or compete with authorized dealerships.
A new poll commissioned by the coalition found significant support among voters for making sure that digital information is accessible to vehicle owners and independent repair shops.
The poll, which surveyed 1,275 voters, found that 76 percent would support a ballot question to require motor vehicle manufacturers to allow vehicle owners in Massachusetts to have access to their vehicle’s mechanical telematics data, and allow independent repair facilities to access the data with vehicle owners’ permission.
Voters polled were told that the potential ballot question involved telematics, which was defined by the poll administrator as a system that collects data from a car, including diagnostic, repair, and maintenance data, and transmits the information wirelessly from the vehicle to the car manufacturer.
Only 15 percent said they preferred to make no change to existing laws.
Of those who said they would support the new requirement, 49 percent said the main reason they would vote in favor of the question is because they believe owners should be able to access their own car’s data.
Twenty-eight percent said they support the question because independent mechanics should be able to fix any vehicle. Another 10 percent said it was because they thought it would save them money on car repairs.
The poll was conducted June 5 through June 10 by Beacon Research, whose founder and president Chris Anderson has been the lead Democratic partner on the Fox News Poll since 2008.
Anderson is also the pollster for Attorney General Maura Healey, Blue Cross Blue Shield of Massachusetts and the ACLU of Massachusetts, and was the general consultant and lead researcher on the 2016 campaign to legalize marijuana.
An official with the Right to Repair Coalition told the News Service that the group intends to proceed to the 2020 ballot only if the Legislature does not pass an update to the “right to repair” law this session.
None of the bills filed so far have had a hearing, but a coalition official said the group now hopes to substitute the language of the ballot question into a bill and see the Legislature hear testimony this fall.
Bills filed this session are proposing to require manufacturers by 2022 to equip vehicles with a system that would allow the owner to access diagnostic information through a mobile app, and make that data available to any repair shop the owner chooses.
Sponsors of these bills, all of which filed separate legislation, include Democratic Reps. Michael Day, John Mahoney, Jerald Parisella, Sean Garballey, Joan Meschino, Paul McMurtry, Patricia Haddad, Dan Ryan, Jim Arciero and William Driscoll, and House Minority Leader Brad Jones and Republican Rep. Todd Smola.
On the Senate side, Sen. Sal DiDomenico and Sen. Barry Finegold have also filed versions.
The coalition spokesman said “elements of the initial bill were dropped so they would fit in with the strictures of the requirements of an initiative petition, but in essence it’s the same.”
Groups or individuals hoping to put a question on the 2020 ballot must submit language to the attorney general’s office for review by Aug. 7.
Only 10 voter signatures are required on the initial petition to start the process.