Waymo Self-Driving Car Torched by Mob in SF's Chinatown

Source: Séraphine Hossenlopp via San Francisco Fire Department
Eric Tanaka
Published on February 11, 2024

A Waymo autonomous vehicle was set ablaze after being viciously attacked by a mob in San Francisco's Chinatown, according to the San Francisco Fire Department and multiple media reports. The incident occurred on Saturday night on Jackson Street, between Stockton and Grant, and the San Francisco Fire Department documented the aftermath, showcasing the extensively damaged vehicle through photos by Séraphine Hossenlopp on X post.

Lt. Mariano Elias with San Francisco Fire confirmed to NBC Bay Area that around 10 to 15 individuals encircled the Waymo vehicle at approximately 9:25 p.m., leading to an escalation in which the car was graffitied, had its windows shattered, and was ultimately set on fire after a firework was ignited within, the vehicle was not carrying any passengers at the time, and no harm came to bystanders or the mob. Videos circulated on social media capturing the group as they defaced and destroyed the self-driving car, with additional footage showing the car engulfed in flames.

A spokesman for Waymo explained, "the group of people surrounded the car and started attacking it," as per a statement obtained by NBC Bay Area, adding that the car was fortunately empty and no injuries were incurred during the ruckus. Though having had recent grudges against Waymo over alleged disruptions to fire operations, the city's Fire Department had previously used a Waymo vehicle as a positive example in a public service video demonstrating correct civilian response when encountering fire trucks on duty.

The Forbes article on the event shed light on the riotous behavior, noting that attackers were unmasked, potentially leaving them identifiable through video evidence posted online with four portions of the scene taking place amidst the Lunar New Year celebrations and in anticipation of the Super Bowl game featuring the San Francisco 49ers, incidents in the past similar events have sometimes led to violence, but this represents an escalation, video from both the assaulted Waymo vehicle's cameras and other surveillance equipment might be available to identify those responsible for the criminal deeds. In an article by Forbes, it was detailed that the vehicle's array of cameras and LIDARs may have captured and transmitted footage during the attack. However, it is uncertain whether the onboard data storage survived the fire.