How ride-sharing products save lives

“About one-third of all traffic crash fatalities in the US involve drunk drivers. Ride-sharing can play an important role in reducing these deaths, according to a new study.

Researchers Michael Anderson and Lucas Davis, both from the University of California, Berkeley, found ride-sharing reduces US alcohol-related traffic fatalities by 6.1% and total US traffic fatalities by 4%.”

Cheng, 2021

No product manager at Uber or Lyft set out to achieve this. It is an unintended consequence, in this case a positive one.

Did product managers consider the opposite potential? Did they consider the number of deaths that could be caused by their service?

The University of Chicago Booth School of Business recently conducted an in-depth study analyzing the onset of ridesharing apps and ride-hailing popularity and a resulting increase in the number of motor vehicle accidents and fatalities. The study indicated that rideshare services like Uber and Lyft have led to a 3% increase in overall car accident fatalities.

Dorlulian Law Group, 2021

Based on a cursory comparison, it would look like ride-sharing saves more lives than it takes. Does any product manager anywhere have a spreadsheet modelling the number of lives saved and deaths caused? Unlikely. And yet the products they put out into the world interact with other systems, they have consequences that are literally life and death.

Current product management thinking doesn’t consider the wider systems impacts the product might have. It considers the product in isolation and focuses on linear cause-and-effect metrics to judge the impact the product is having on the behaviour of it’s users.

But, for a product to be successfully integrated into other systems, product managers need a different perspective, a different way of thinking about their products. They need to be able to consider other people that might be affected by their product, even if they aren’t users, and the ways in which their product might cause societal and cultural change, and what ways it might affect the environment.