San Francisco’s Chinatown has been hit by an extreme act of vandalism, marking a new chapter in the already tense relationship between the city and automated vehicle companies. Yesterday evening, at around 9pm (local time), an individual jumped onto the hood of a Waymo driverless taxi and shattered its windshield. The act was met with spontaneous applause from those present before escalating into a crowd gathering around the vehicle, covering it in spray paint, breaking its windows, and finally setting it on fire. Despite the timely intervention of firefighters who arrived a few minutes later, the flames had already consumed the car completely.
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 attack, during which fireworks were thrown into it to spark the flames. San Francisco Police Department public information officer Robert Rueca confirmed that law enforcement responded “at approximately 8:50 p.m. to find the car already in flames,” adding that there were no reports of injuries.
A video posted by YouTube channel FriscoLive415 shows the charred wreckage of Waymo’s electric Jaguar taxi, symbolizing growing tension between San Francisco residents and operators of automated vehicles. The suspension of operations by rival robotaxi Cruise following an accident last year in which one of its vehicles hit and dragged a pedestrian has further fueled debate over safety and appropriateness of these services in urban life.
The opposition to 24/7 operation by city officials and some residents is also manifested through symbolic gestures such as placing orange cones on top of vehicle hoods highlighting community resistance to imposing this technology. This incident fits into a broader context where technology companies face challenges in deploying their devices in public space – historical precedents range from destruction shared bicycles to episodes involving violence against electric vehicles and scooters.