US Advances ‘Right to Repair’ Bill for Auto, Electronic & Agri Sectors

Highlights :

  • Bill mandatorily requires data and access needed for repairs to be made available to the independent repair industry.
  • The bill directs NHTSA to create cybersecurity standards for vehicle data.
  • Provision for stakeholder advisory committee.

US Lawmakers have introduced three bills related to the right to repair, one for each of the automotive, agriculture, and electronics industries. These laws are meant to ensure that consumers get vehicles, electronic devices, and agriculture equipment serviced by independent shops.

Representative Bobby Rush (D-IL), chairman of the House Energy and Commerce Subcommittee on Energy, introduced the Right to Equitable and Professional Auto Industry Repair (REPAIR) Act.

The bill mandatorily requires all tools and equipment, wireless transmission of repair and diagnostic data and access to on-board diagnostic systems needed for repairs to be made available to the independent repair industry. Simply put, the vehicle owners and independent repair shops will now have the data needed access to repair and maintain modern, technologically advanced vehicles.

Further, the bill directs the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) to create cybersecurity standards for vehicle data. Furthermore, provision for stakeholder advisory committee is also mentioned. The committee will have the authority to provide recommendations to the FTC on related issues.

Backing the consumers’ right to repair their electronics, President Biden noted last month, “In too many areas, if you own a product, from a smartphone to a tractor, you don’t have the freedom to choose how or where to repair that item you purchased.”

Why Right to Repair?

The foundations of the ‘right to repair’ movement lie in the fact that in the absence of competition, manufacturers charge excessive costs for repairs and leave customers with no cheaper self-repair or third-party alternatives, resulting in consumer exploitation.

In the case of the automotive industry, most new cars collect data from onboard sensors. This is transmitted to automakers. Issue arises at the time of repair. Anyone other than the company and its franchise-dealers have limited access to vehicle data. Currently, this affects repairs for 37% of vehicles in the United States which is only going to increase with the advent of EV, Rush claims.

The demand for a right to repair is not new. Evidently, in recent years, countries around the globe have been attempting to pass effective ‘right to repair’ laws. Why can’t consumers fix their appliances or gadgets themselves? This is a question the advocates of the ‘right to repair’ movement have been addressing for decades now, worldwide.

Manufacturers have a monopoly on repairs. Subsequently, the prices rise exponentially and quality tends to drop, advocates of the right to repair argue. Moreover, this current system affects the business of small repair shops, which are an important part of local economies. In many cases, independent shops have resorted to workarounds and actually 3D printing their own parts in some cases.

In 2021, almost all of the 50 US states had proposed a right to repair bill. However, only one, Massachusetts, had made it a law. The law made it compulsory to provide information about repairs to owners and independent repair facilities for any car made in 2015 or later. Reportedly, this was challenged by the Alliance for Automotive Innovation. The alliance argued that opening up data could lead to serious cyber security risks.

Tesla said that such an act would weaken the system’s cybersecurity and make it prone to attacks. Microsoft and Google have also opposed the legislation.

Naturally, tech giants resisted the right to repair. These companies constantly claim that they are working towards greater durability themselves.

Implications for India

The ‘right to repair’ is not a statutory right in India. Still, the erstwhile Competition Appellate Tribunal (“COMPAT”) had noted in Shamsher Kataria row that the practice of restricting and denying access of spare automobile parts to independent repairers of automobiles by way of the end-user license agreement is anti-competitive.

The right to repair is developing as a battle between governments and antitrust watchdogs against Original Equipment Manufacturers. This is in order to prevent a situation of planned obsolescence. The CCI has restricted the right to leverage one’s dominance into a second market. As of now, there have been no further initiatives in the form of anti-trust policymaking. Definitely, the development in US will embolden the prospects of similar legislation for India. How the Law makers in India will react, only time will tell.

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Junaid Shah

Junaid holds a Master of Engineering degree in Construction & Management. Being a civil engineering postgraduate and using his technical prowess, he has channeled his passion for writing in the environmental niche.

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