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Vandals Attacked, Set Fire to Waymo Autonomous Vehicle in San Francisco

Waymo vehicle on fire in San Francisco | Photo: YouTube / Reuters
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Daniel Rufiange
There is some precedent of acts committed against self-driving vehicles.

A self-driving vehicle belonging to Waymo was vandalized and set on fire last weekend in San Francisco. The vehicle was completely destroyed.


Several manufacturers offer semi-autonomous driving functions with their vehicles, and others aim to offer fully autonomous capability in the future. Models are already being tested in some cities, such as in San Francisco by Waymo. 

However, for these vehicles to become a commonplace reality on roads, public acceptance is necessary. This acceptance is slow in coming. 

We still don't know to what extent if any the incident in San Francisco was the result of anti-autonomous-vehicle sentiment. What we do know is that a crowd surrounded a vehicle driving through the city's Chinatown and some people in that crowd began vandalizing it before setting fire to it. 

Waymo vehicle incident
Waymo vehicle incident | Photo: YouTube / Reuters

Witness Michael Vandi, who posted videos of the incident online, told Reuters that people were celebrating the Chinese Lunar New Year by shooting off fireworks. One person jumped on the hood of a Waymo vehicle and smashed its windshield. Another did the same 30 seconds later as some in the crowd applauded in approval.

“That was when it went WILD,” he wrote on the X platform, describing people with skateboards smashing the glass and others putting graffiti on the car. 

His video shows the vehicle engulfed in flames with a huge plume of black smoke billowing from it.

Said Waymo, “The vehicle was not transporting any riders and no injuries have been reported. We are working closely with local safety officials to respond to the situation.” 

As mentioned, authorities have not said anything regarding the cause of the attack. Was it an isolated incident? A few malcontents taking advantage of a situation? This isn't the first time people have attacked self-driving vehicles. On the other hand, the vandalism happened the night before the Super Bowl, which featured the San Francisco 49ers.

San Francisco police are investigating the cause of the fire, but they aren’t saying whether any arrests had been made.

Last October, an accident involving a vehicle operated by General Motors' Cruise unit resulted in the death of a pedestrian. Last week, another incident occurred in which a driverless vehicle collided with a cyclist in San Francisco, causing minor injuries. 

In the wake of incidents like these, groups have been known to disrupt the smooth operation of this type of vehicle, notably in Phoenix, Arizona, for example by blocking their path, obstructing their sensors and so on.

A Waymo vehicle on the road
A Waymo vehicle on the road | Photo: Waymo

Waymo currently operates a driverless car-sharing service in Phoenix and aims to expand the service to Los Angeles and Austin, Texas.

Following last October's fatal incident, the State of California suspended Cruise's driverless test license, and the company has taken all its vehicles off the road.

The Waymo vehicle was completely destroyed
The Waymo vehicle was completely destroyed | Photo: YouTube / Reuters
Daniel Rufiange
Daniel Rufiange
Automotive expert
  • Over 17 years' experience as an automotive journalist
  • More than 75 test drives in the past year
  • Participation in over 250 new vehicle launches in the presence of the brand's technical specialists