The attack came amid growing hostility toward self-driving taxis in San Francisco

Graham Hope

February 13, 2024

3 Min Read
A self-driving Waymo taxi was attacked by a crowd and set on fire in San Francisco during the city’s Lunar New Year celebrations.
Séraphine Hossenlopp vis San Francisco Fire Department

A self-driving Waymo taxi was attacked by a crowd and set on fire in San Francisco during the city’s Lunar New Year celebrations.

It has not yet been established whether the driverless Jaguar SUV was specifically targeted or if the incident was simply a case of high spirits spiraling out of control.

But what was clear from images posted on X, the site formerly known as Twitter, was that the burned out I-Pace suffered irreparable damage in the violent incident.

View post on Twitter

As the San Francisco Fire Department confirmed: “Waymo Vehicle surrounded and then graffiti’d, windows were broken, and firework lit on fire inside the vehicle which ultimately caught the entire vehicle on fire.”

While the motive for the attack has not been established, it has demonstrated that vehicles without any occupants – such as self-driving taxis – are an easy target if a mob is intent on damaging them, even taking into account the multiple cameras on board that could capture the identity of assailants.

The events were detailed by onlookers on social media sites. Witnesses described a scene in the city’s Chinatown area where fireworks were being let off, prior to an individual jumping on to the hood of the Waymo AV and breaking its windshield. At that point, things escalated dramatically, and a firework was thrown inside, setting the vehicle on fire.

Related:San Francisco Files Lawsuit to Slow Self-Driving Taxi Rollout

Waymo later confirmed that the vehicle was not carrying any riders, and that no one had been hurt in the incident.

The attack came amid growing hostility toward self-driving taxis in San Francisco.

Just days before, Waymo had attracted a slew of negative headlines after one of its AVs was involved in a collision with a cyclist in the city.

The vehicle was reportedly pulling out from a four-way intersection and failed to spot a cyclist hidden behind a truck that was turning into the intersection.

A Waymo statement issued to media outlets said: “The cyclist was occluded by the truck and quickly followed behind it, crossing into the Waymo vehicle’s path.” It continued: “When they became fully visible, our vehicle applied heavy braking but was not able to avoid the collision.”

The cyclist left the scene of their own accord, while Waymo contacted the police and referred the collision to the California Department of Motor Vehicles.

San Francisco has become the center of a heated debate regarding the rollout of robotaxis in America. While Waymo is looking to massively expand its coverage, City Attorney David Chiu wants to slow things down, and has filed a lawsuit against the California Public Utilities Commission following its decision last August to allow the company to operate 24/7.

Related:Cruise, Waymo Get OK for Self-Driving Taxi Fleets in San Francisco

Waymo’s rival, Cruise, suspended all operations after an accident in the city in October, and there have been numerous reports of activists, unhappy at the disruption self-driving taxis cause, disabling them by placing cones on their hood.

About the Author(s)

Graham Hope

Graham Hope has worked in automotive journalism in the U.K. for 26 years, including spells as editor of leading consumer news website and weekly Auto Express and respected buying guide CarBuyer.

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