Uber feature request: An emergency red button

Hello imaginary Uber product manager, if I may, I have a feature requests as a frequent user of your product. This is related to safety.

man driving behind wheel
Photo by Juan Di Nella on Unsplash

Emergency red button

My request is to have an emergency red button added to your app. To illustrate why I think this would potentially save lives, I’ll narrate my experience just yesterday when Charlane and I sat in a particular Uber driver’s car.

We had just arrived in Singapore from Perth. As it is customary now, I pulled out my phone to search for an Uber without hesitation. I knew it would be cheaper and hoped it would be quicker. And it was quicker – we were in the car within 8 minutes. So far so good.

Two minutes into the ride though, something caught my attention. My driver’s eyes had sealed shut and we were going at 80 km/h on the expressway. I did not immediately display panic or try to wake up the driver. For some stupid reason, I thought it would be impolite – what if he hadn’t dozed off but actually just had really small eyes? So I quietly sent my wife a text, even though she sat just beside me in the rear passenger seat.

“Oh my god, he really is!”, Charlane exasperated. That moment I sprang immediately into action and I tapped on the side of his leather seat – not too loudly so as to not shock him but not too lightly to be potentially unheard.

Thankfully, he didn’t swerve the car. He did growl at us though, asking what our problem was, even after I explained that I was just worried he was falling asleep at the wheel since it was after all 4am in the wee morning. He insisted that he was not falling asleep and carried an insulted look throughout the rest of the 20 km journey. I did notice that he was driving at a more consistent speed and kept within the lanes though…

So right after I potentially saved our lives, I began to think. Uber is the enabler of this entire arranged journey. Is there something that can be done to deal with sleepy drivers?

A thorough scan through the app yields no fruit. There is simply no avenue to provide real-time feedback about a driver when the trip is in progress. But sometimes a timely intervention is exactly what is needed to save lives!

So dear Uber product manager reading this, please consider this feature request to add an emergency stop button. I’m imagining something that works similarly to the button that important people on TV always have under their desk in case they are in a hostage situation?

Pressing the button doesn’t have to stop the car we’re in. That would be silly. Perhaps it could send a signal to your server, and in your system’s backend cross-check with a number of data points to compute the probability band that the driver should be made to take a time-out. Data points like these could be helpful:

  • How long the driver has been driving since his last break
  • The time of the day and likelihood of a person being sleepy
  • Distance left in the booked trip

And when the system recognises the threat, it should do a few things:

  1. Log that the user pressed the button, together with the computed probability that the driver is indeed posing a threat
  2. Send a signal to the driver’s app to demand the driver to have a time-out, which perhaps means to stop the car at the nearest roadside stop
  3. Enforce the time-out by cross-checking that the driver’s vehicle has stopped for the stipulated time (eg. 5 minutes) before moving again. If driver fails to comply, suggest that the fee for the trip will be compromised

And that’s my suggestion to make Uber rides safe from overly hardworking drivers who may doze at the wheel. While you are deliberating the merits of this card on your kanban board, it may help to imagine yourself in a car driven by a sleepy driver who insists you are being a dick for accusing him of dozing off at the wheel. It’s a tricky situation to say the least!

Get this right, and you give users one more reason to stay with you other than for the deep discounts you so love to dish out…


Also published on Medium.