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'Right to Repair' signatures submitted that could push question to voters

On Thursday, a coalition presented more than 70,000 signatures to the Secretary of State's Office for certification.

AUGUSTA, Maine — Auto repair shop owners in Maine say as cars are becoming more technologically advanced, accessing wirelessly transmitted diagnostic information is becoming all the more challenging. 

"As these newer vehicles roll off the assembly lines, they have so much more technology, so much more computers in them that we have to make sure technicians have the ability to repair all those vehicles 10, 20 years from now," Tim Winkeler, president and CEO of VIP Tire and Auto said. 

On Thursday, Winkeler was joined by other auto repair shop owners in Maine to present more than 70,000 signatures to the Office of the Secretary of State to be certified, in the hopes of having the right-to-repair vehicles on the ballot come November.

According to the coalition 'Maine Right to Repair' which began collecting the signatures in November, the initiative looks to protect independent auto repair shops ability to repair vehicles by requiring automakers to provide the necessary diagnostic information necessary to do so.

"A lot of the communications are going wireless and therefore we're going to have to tap into the signal, and if we can't tap into that signal, we can't access that information," Alton Sutherland Jr., owner of Al's Certified Auto Repair in Augusta said. 

Sutherland is one of the more than 70,000 petition signees. He hopes that the measure will allow him and his team to continue servicing vehicles at his independent shop.

Not all are in agreement over the proposed measure however. 

The Alliance for Automotive Innovation represents numerous companies that make up 98 percent of cars sold in the U.S., and opposes the ballot initiative.

"This ballot initiative is entirely unnecessary. Mainers already can have their car repaired by any repair shop they choose. And all the information needed to diagnose and repair a vehicle today is also already made available to all vehicle repair shops. But the ballot initiative does pose a real cybersecurity and privacy threat to Maine’s drivers," AAI wrote in a statement.

Winkeler however pushes back on cybersecurity concerns presented by having access to wirelessly transmitted diagnostic data. He says repair shops are simply looking to be on a level playing field, and have access to the same information as manufacturers.

"That vehicle owner should have the choice to say I want to have this repair shop have access to the repair and diagnostic information only so that they can fix my car for me," Winkeler said.

If the signatures are certified, Winkeler hopes to see the right-to-repair question on the November 2023 ballot statewide. 

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