Yesterday, San Francisco’s Chinatown became the site of an extreme act of vandalism, marking a new low in tensions between the city and automated vehicle companies. At around 9pm (local time), an individual climbed onto the hood of a Waymo driverless taxi and shattered its windshield. This sparked spontaneous applause among those present before quickly escalating into a full-blown attack.
The car was covered in spray paint, windows were broken, and finally, it was set on fire. Despite the timely intervention of firefighters, who arrived just a few minutes later, the flames had already completely engulfed the vehicle by then. The cause behind this act of vandalism remains unclear at the moment. 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 it, causing the flames. San Francisco Police Department public information officer Robert Rueca confirmed that law enforcement responded to the incident at approximately 8:50 p.m., but 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 adds to this debate on safety and appropriateness in urban life.
The opposition from city officials and some residents to 24/7 operation of these cars is also evident through symbolic gestures such as placing orange cones on their hoods. This incident fits into a broader context where technology companies face challenges when deploying their devices in public space, with historical precedents from shared bicycles to episodes of violence against electric vehicles and scooters.