In San Francisco’s Chinatown, a new chapter has been written in the already tense relations between the city and automated vehicle companies. Yesterday evening, an individual jumped on the hood of a Waymo driverless taxi and shattered its windshield. This act sparked spontaneous applause among those present before escalating into a crowd forming around the vehicle, covering it in spray paint and eventually setting it on fire. Despite the timely intervention of firefighters who arrived a few minutes later, the flames had already completely engulfed the car.
The causes behind this act of vandalism remain unclear at this time. Sandy Karp, a representative for Waymo, stated that the fully autonomous car was “not carrying passengers” at the time of the attack and that fireworks were thrown into the car, sparking the flames. The San Francisco Police Department public information officer Robert Rueca confirmed that law enforcement responded to find the car already in flames and that there were no reports of injuries.
A video posted by YouTube channel FriscoLive415 shows the charred wreckage of Waymo’s electric Jaguar taxi, which has become a symbol of growing tension between San Francisco residents and operators of automated vehicles. The suspension of operations of rival robotaxi Cruise by the California Department of Motor Vehicles following an accident in which one of its vehicles hit and dragged a pedestrian last year, as well as previous episodes in which automated taxis caused chaos by blocking traffic or colliding with a fire engine, fuel this debate on safety and appropriateness of these services in urban life.
The opposition to 24/7 operation of these cars is also evident through symbolic gestures such as placing orange cones on their hoods by city officials and some residents alike. This incident fits into a broader context of challenges that technology companies face when deploying their devices in public space, with historical precedents ranging from destruction shared bicycles to episodes violence against electric vehicles and scooters.