Mainers resoundingly voted to approve a citizens’ initiative instituting an automotive “right to repair” in the state in Tuesday’s elections.
Under the newly approved measure, vehicle manufacturers will be required to standardize on-board diagnostic systems, as well as allow both owners and non-dealership repair facilities remote access to these systems and mechanical data.
On Tuesday, 84.3 percent of Maine voters cast their ballots in favor of Question 4, expressing their support for the automotive “right to repair” loudly and clearly.
The only other question to receive such a unified response from voters at the polls was Question 2, which asked voters if they wanted to prohibit foreign governments from campaigning in local and state elections.
[RELATED: The Results Are In — Election Day 2023]
In February of this year, the Secretary of State’s office received a citizens’ petition with more than 74,000 signatures in an effort to get the measure before voters.
Next to Question 3 — concerning the establishment of Pine Tree Power — Question 4 was one of the most widely talked about issues leading up to yesterday’s election.
A poll conducted by the University of New Hampshire at the end of October revealed that 79 percent of Mainers had heard “a lot” or “some” about Question 4, and 75 percent said that they understood the issue “very” or “somewhat” well.
In the poll, 76 percent of respondents said that they intended to vote in favor of Question 4, while 20 percent said that they were still undecided on the matter.
The 84.3 percent of Mainers who voted in support of instituting an automotive “right to repair” in the state is representative of a more than 8 percent increase over what was originally expected.
During the campaign season, support and opposition for Question 4 came from a number of organized sources.
The most substantial source of opposition to the measure was the Alliance for Automotive Innovation — a trade group representing a number of high-profile, recognizable car manufacturers.
On the local level, Question 4 was opposed by the Maine Automobile Dealers Association — an organization representing franchised new car and truck dealers.
The strongest source of support for Question 4 came from the Maine Automotive Right to Repair Committee — a group comprised of Maine-based independent repair shop owners, their employees, and other local “right to repair” supporters.
Proponents of Question 4 argued that it would serve as a means by which to increase consumer choice by allowing vehicle owners to get repairs done by the mechanics of their choosing.
Automotive industry opponents, however, argue that independent mechanics already have access to all the information necessary to effectively repair vehicles, suggesting that supporters were only interested in expanding access to vehicle data in order to market directly to consumers.
Supporters of Question 4 responded to these accusations by laying out how the diagnostic data currently available to them is often insufficient to properly diagnose and repair vehicles because critical data points are still being blocked from their diagnostic systems.
Currently, there is an agreement in place between the Automotive Service Association and the Society of Collision Repair Specialists wherein manufacturers “shall” make available for purchase the “same diagnostic and repair information” that’s made available to dealerships, including for hybrid and electric vehicles.
Manufacturers are also required under the terms of the agreement to provide “specific telematic diagnostic and repair data” to independent mechanics when necessary for a vehicle’s repair.
Despite the existence of this agreement, Question 4 supporters argued that it was insufficient to effectively protect the “right to repair” as it does involve any sort of enforcement mechanism.
The legislation enacted with the passage of Question 4 requires that, within a year, all vehicles sold within the state must come equipped with “an inter-operable, standardized and owner-authorized access platform across all of the manufacturer’s makes and models.”
“The platform must be directly accessible by the motor vehicle owner through a mobile-based application and, upon the authorization of the owner, all mechanical data must be directly accessible by an independent repair facility or a licensed dealer,” the law says, “limited to the time to complete the repair or for a period of time agreed to by the motor vehicle owner for the purposes of maintaining, diagnosing and repairing the motor vehicle.”
Unlike the industry agreement, the newly-passed law does include a formal enforcement mechanism for these requirements.
In the event vehicle owner or independent repair facility that is injured as a result of alleged violations of this law, civil action may be pursued.
Each denial of access in violation of the law is “compensable by an award of treble damages or $10,000, whichever amount is greater.”