Anti-robotaxi protestors take novel approach to make their voices heard

The protest group has set its sights on taking the streets from tech companies back to the public. So much tech, only to fall at the mercy of a lowly cone.
Amal Jos Chacko
An illustration based on an image of traffic cones on robotaxis.
An illustration based on an image of traffic cones on robotaxis.


In the wake of companies like Waymo and Cruise expanding their autonomous vehicle services to San Francisco, citizens have taken a unique approach to protest by placing traffic cones on the hoods of these vehicles.

Videos of the group, who call themselves “Safe Street Rebel,” have gone viral on Twitter and TikTok, attracting both support and criticism from users. 

The companies that own these vehicles are, however, not pleased with the attention, considering it an act of vandalism.

Waymo, one of the leading players in the self-driving vehicle industry, expressed its disapproval of the activists' actions in a statement. “Not only is this understanding of how [Autonomous Vehicles] AVs operate incorrect, but this is vandalism and encourages unsafe and disrespectful behavior on our roadways. We will notify law enforcement of any unwanted or unsafe interference of our vehicles on public roadways,” reported TechCrunch.

Cruise, another robotaxi operator in San Francisco, defended its safety record and highlighted the positive contributions its fleet has made to the community.

“Cruise’s fleet provides free rides to late-night service workers without more reliable transportation options, has delivered over 2 million meals to food insecure San Franciscans, and recovers food waste from local businesses. Intentionally obstructing vehicles gets in the way of those efforts and risks creating traffic congestion for local residents,” the company told TechCrunch.

Concerns about Safety and Accountability

The introduction of self-driving vehicles in San Francisco has stirred controversy among residents. While companies behind these services insist on their safety, critics argue that these vehicles turn the public into involuntary beta testers.

Waymo, for example, referred to a blog post by its chief safety officer to support its claims of superior driving capabilities compared to humans. However, the same blog post omitted the mention of a dog fatality involving a Waymo vehicle, raising concerns about accountability and justice in cases of harm caused by autonomous vehicles.

Interestingly, the protest against robotaxis has been limited to San Francisco, with no similar activism reported in other major testing markets such as Phoenix and Austin.

Safe Street Rebel called on San Francisco residents to attend a meeting held by the California Public Utilities Commission (CPUC) on July 13. The CPUC will gather public input before deciding on expanding regulations allowing Cruise and Waymo to deploy autonomous vehicles on city streets, particularly regarding fare charging by driverless car companies.

Unconventional protest and an uphill battle

Safe Street Rebel's "Week of Cone'' campaign aims to raise awareness and hold these robotaxi companies accountable for the accidents their vehicles cause. 

“These companies promise their cars will reduce traffic and collisions, but instead they block buses, emergency vehicles, and everyday traffic,” read one video posted on social media. The likelihood of these companies sharing video footage with the police has only irked the group further.

While their guerilla tactics have garnered attention, it remains to be seen whether the group’s actions will have any significant impact on CPUC's decision.

This article was written and edited by a human, with the assistance of Generative AI tools. Find out more about our policy on AI-powered writing here.

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