NHTSA’s Letter Undermines Will of Massachusetts Voters and Biden Administration’s Competition Policy 

Text of Letter (PDF)

Washington (June 16, 2023) — Senators Edward J. Markey (D-Mass.) and Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.) today sent a letter to Secretary of Transportation Pete Buttigieg and Deputy Administrator of the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) Sophie Schulman, calling on NHTSA to reverse its course after it sent a recent letter to auto manufacturers, advising them not to comply with Massachusetts’ Right to Repair law. 

“NHTSA’s 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. We are asking NHTSA to explain its rationale for its harmful actions and respect Massachusetts state law by reversing course,” wrote the senators. 

Massachusetts’ Right to Repair law requires auto manufacturers who sell cars in Massachusetts to equip them with a standardized open data platform so that owners and independent mechanics can access vehicle telematics data for repairs, maintenance, and diagnostics. The law passed via ballot initiative in November 2020, with nearly three-fourths of Massachusetts residents voting in favor. Big auto manufacturers spent $25 million to oppose the initiative and filed suit to stop the law from going into effect weeks after it passed. Two years into a drawn out legal process, a court rejected a last-minute request to block enforcement of the law on May 30, 2023, and Massachusetts Attorney General Andrea Joy Campbell began enforcing the law on June 1, 2023.

Despite this court order, on June 13, 2023, NHTSA’s Assistant Chief Counsel for Litigation and Enforcement wrote a letter to 22 auto manufacturers stating that the Right to Repair law is preempted by the National Traffic and Motor Vehicle Safety Act (Safety Act) and that auto manufacturers’ compliance with Massachusetts law would “conflict with (their) obligations under the Safety Act.”  

“NHTSA sent the June 13 letter with no warning, 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. Moreover, NHTSA’s position is not consistent with Administration policy. President Biden’s Executive Order on Promoting Competition in the American Economy (EO 14036) states that it is the policy of the Administration to combat the ‘harmful effects of monopoly and monopsony . . . (in) repair markets,’ and encourages the FTC to draft new regulations limiting ‘manufacturers from restricting people’s ability to use independent repair shops or do DIY repairs,’” wrote the senators. 

“It is disappointing that NHTSA’s letter relies on the argument pushed by major automobile manufacturers that there is, in this case, an irresolvable conflict between maintaining data security and providing independent repair shops with the data they need to conduct repairs. Auto manufacturers have routinely raised safety concerns as a way to ‘change the subject’ and distract consumers from the fact that ‘vehicle repair and maintenance services from independent repair shops keeps the cost of service and repair down,’” continued the senators. 

Given these serious concerns, the senators are calling on NHTSA to reconsider its decision and to allow Massachusetts to enforce the will of its voters and protect consumers. They are also asking Secretary Buttigieg and Deputy Administrator Schulman to respond to a set of questions about NHTSA’s letter.