US OKs state auto-repair law after raising hacking concerns

By David Shepardson

WASHINGTON (Reuters) -U.S auto safety regulators said Tuesday automakers can comply with a Massachusetts law requiring them to share vehicle data with independent repair shops, reversing course after previously objecting that it could make vehicles vulnerable to hacking.

The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA)

said automakers could safely share diagnostic data with independent shops using short-range wireless technology, but warned that using long-range wireless signals could potentially let hackers send dangerous commands to moving vehicles.

Massachusetts voters in 2020 approved a ballot initiative that gives independent repair shops access to diagnostic data that newer cars can send directly to dealers and manufacturers, in order to allow consumers to seek repairs outside dealerships.

NHTSA in June told 22 major automakers in June not to comply with the open-access law because it could potentially allow for manipulation of steering, braking and other critical safety functions and allow hackers to “remotely command vehicles to operate dangerously.”

After discussions with Massachusetts, NHTSA said the state had clarified that automakers could comply with the law using a “short-range wireless compliance approach, implemented appropriately.” Longer-range wireless technologies would pose risks, the agency said.

The Massachusetts attorney general’s office said it appreciated “NHTSA’s clarification today that our state law is not preempted by federal law.” Automakers now must comply with the state law, the office said.

NHTSA said automakers should be allowed “a reasonable period of time” to put the technology in place.

The Alliance for Automotive Innovation, a trade group representing major automakers including General Motors, Toyota Motor and Volkswagen declined to comment but previously argued the state law would require automakers “to remove essential cybersecurity protections from their vehicles.”

Senators Elizabeth Warren and Ed Markey, both Democrats from Massachusetts, criticized NHTSA in June but said Tuesday’s decision to allow the law to be enforced will help “ease burdens and lower costs for Massachusetts drivers.”

The White House competition council engaged behind the scenes to help reach a resolution, a senior administration official said.

(Reporting by David Shepardson; editing by Jonathan Oatis and Andy Sullivan)