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Burning Waymo robotaxi in San Francisco

Photo: Michael Vandi / REUTERS

In San Francisco, people set fire to a self-driving car from Google sister company Waymo on the street. Videos from eyewitnesses were shared on social networks showing several people initially breaking the windows of the driverless robotaxis. According to eyewitnesses, they then set it on fire using a firecracker.

Self-driving cars are controversial in San Francisco. Critics and authorities complain, among other things, that the vehicles often block traffic. There have also been recent accidents involving self-driving cars.

The Waymo robotaxi was stranded on a street blocked by a crowd during Chinese New Year celebrations in Chinatown on Saturday evening. The car was traveling without passengers.

San Francisco became a unique testing ground for self-driving taxis last year. Waymo and General Motors subsidiary Cruise received permission from a California regulator this summer to offer their driverless transportation services throughout the city. The city administration and numerous residents were against it.

The current case is not the first attack on a self-driving car in San Francisco. Last year, police began investigating after a video showed a masked person using a hammer or small ax to tamper with Cruise's vehicle, CBS News reported.

Cruise's cars have been idle since an accident in October. At that time, a pedestrian was hit by a conventional car with a human behind the wheel and thrown in front of a Cruise robotaxi. The driverless car braked, but the woman got stuck underneath it. The cruise car then attempted to automatically pull over to the side of the road. The woman was dragged several meters.

Critics saw their assessment confirmed that the technology was not safe enough. General Motors changed management of Cruise after the accident and only wants to gradually bring the vehicles back on the road.

Another accident occurred last week - a Wymo car collided with a cyclist, who sustained minor injuries. The administration is investigating the case.

Developers of self-driving cars emphasize that the vehicles are safer on the road than cars with people behind the wheel.