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When normal cities lose a Super Bowl, mobs sometimes riot, flip over a couple of parked cars, and light them on fire. San Francisco is far from a normal city. Imagine my surprise when I woke up to a Monday morning news story that vandals in the Golden Gate City had painted, smashed, and burned a self-driving Waymo car. This seemingly random act of violence may actually tell us a lot about our relationship with self-driving cars.

It turns out that this mob of vandals was moving through San Francisco’s crowded Chinatown neighborhood late on Saturday night. They spray painted various businesses and other buildings in the area. Then, they converged on a self-driving Waymo car, a white Jaguar I-PACE crossover modified with cameras.

These vandals’ response reveals our subconscious feelings towards self-driving cars: They are creepy, dangerous, and we’re honestly getting a bit sick of them.

The vandals marked up the car, painting it like the buildings. Then they used something–perhaps a rock–to smash the windows. In bystander video, you can see vandals using their skateboards to pry out the rest of the glass. Later videos show the car engulfed in a rising column of flames. Authorities suspect someone threw fireworks into the car.

Obviously, this act of vandalism was criminal and insanely dangerous. An explosion in a place such as China Town could injure dozens. What’s more, Waymo has a ton of money invested in a self-driving I-PACE. I in no way condone what these idiots did. But its interesting to examine why they did it.

Protestors hold up anti-robotaxi signs on the steps of the San Francisco city hall
Robotaxi protest in San Francisco | Justin Sullivan/Getty Images

There have been mutterings that this was some kind of protest against the tech companies taking over San Francisco. But I doubt it. I agree with authorities who suspect it was actually just a group of vandals who happened on a car. But these vandals’ response reveals our subconscious feelings towards self-driving cars: They are creepy, dangerous, and we’re honestly getting a bit sick of them.

First of all, the Waymo car may have been parked when the vandals found it. But if it was trying to drive under its own power, this is an intriguing case. Its the first incident of a mob of angry humans tearing a robot apart. Their surrounding it could have been a way to trip its proximity sensors and get away. And there destruction of the self-driving car takes on an especially sinister twist.

Secondly, you have to understand San Francisco’s history with self driving cars. Residents have seen them out and about for testing (always with a human copilot) for a decade now. But last August, California decided to allow fully automated “robotaxis.” That didn’t last long. On October 2nd, a Cruise brand taxi struck a woman in downtown San Francisco. It dragged her for 20 feet before it even realized something was wrong.

Jaguar I-PACE Waymo Robotaxi parked on the street in San Francisco
Vandalized Waymo robotaxi | Tayfun Coskun/Anadolu via Getty Images

Finally, people are getting sick of self-driving cars being pushed on us for several reasons. One simple reason is that these machines threaten to kill the most common profession in the country: driver. Whether its long-haul trucking, delivery driving, or taxi driving, millions of Americans make their living as drivers. And in the case of taxis, they seem willing to work for less than minimum wage. But that’s not enough, investors are still dumping money into self-driving technology to replace those jobs.

Another reason folks may be sick of self-driving is that it looks like a gimmick only available in the top-trim luxury cars. Recent price surges already make cars too expensive for the average American. Most folks can’t afford self-driving, yet tone-deaf futurists claim the whole world is moving in that direction.

A final reason that some more critical thinkers are sick of the self-driving car push is the environment damage they threaten to do. This problem is two-fold. Funding for self-driving car research reduces the money we can put into EV research. We need to reduce carbon emissions now, so self-driving technology could be a dangerous distraction. Second of all, if the wealthy have fully self-driving cars you can kiss any meaningful improvements to our public transit system goodbye. We already have environmentally-friendly, self-driving commuters. They’re called electric trains.

I am sure that someday in the future we’ll have reliable, safe self-driving cars. Someday after that, they will even be cheap enough for the average car drivers to buy them. And I can think of a ton of benefits to that. But in the meantime they’re a gimmick that automakers and companies such as Uber are pushing to make a buck. And at least one group of folks in San Francisco is sick and tired of it.

You can see the latest on the investigation into who lit a San Francisco Waymo on fire in the video below:

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