Crowd sets Waymo self-driving vehicle ablaze in San Francisco

By Hyunjoo Jin and Abhirup Roy

(Reuters) -A crowd vandalized and set fire to a Waymo self-driving car using a firework in San Francisco on Saturday, the Alphabet-owned company and authorities said, marking the latest public attack on such vehicles in the U.S.

The incident began around 9 p.m. PST on Saturday (0500 GMT Sunday) in the city’s Chinatown district when a crowd surrounded a white sport utility vehicle that was moving along the street, a company spokesperson said.

Video footage posted on social media showed one person drawing graffiti on the SUV and another using a skateboard to smash one of the windows, prompting cheers from the crowd. Footage showed the vehicle on fire with a huge plume of black smoke in the air.

The fire department posted pictures on social media of the charred remains of the car and said a firework started the blaze.

“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,” the company said. It did not say what caused the attack.

The San Francisco Police Department said it was investigating the cause of the fire.

The incident was not the first time people have attacked self-driving cars, but its severity may illustrate growing public hostility following a pedestrian-dragging accident last year involving a vehicle operated by General Motors’ Cruise unit.

On previous occasions in San Francisco and Phoenix, Arizona, groups have disrupted the operations of self-driving vehicles, blocking their path, trying to enter the vehicles and jumping on their hoods. Videos that went viral showed people putting orange traffic cones on top of the vehicles to obstruct their sensors and force them to stop abruptly.

Last week, a driverless Waymo car collided with a cyclist in San Francisco, causing minor injuries. The incident is being reviewed by the state’s auto regulator.

Waymo offers driverless ride-hailing service in Phoenix and is working to expand the service to Los Angeles and Austin, Texas.

On Oct. 2, 2023, a pedestrian hit by another vehicle was thrown into the path of a self-driving Cruise vehicle and dragged 20 feet (6 meters). California subsequently suspended the company’s driverless testing license, and Cruise pulled all its U.S. self-driving vehicles from testing.

The latest incident took place during Chinese Lunar New Year holidays and a day before the Super Bowl NFL championship involving the San Francisco 49ers and the Kansas City Chiefs.

(Reporting by Hyunjoo Jin and Abhirup Roy in San Francisco and Mariana Sandoval; Editing by Lisa Shumaker and Paul Simao)

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