Using Human-Centered Design to Create an International Safety Communications Guide for Ride-Share Drivers

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Ride-sharing has completely changed how we travel. More than a third of Americans use ride-hailing services, and globally, the market for ride shares is predicted to hit $242.7 billion by 2028. 

But the major increase in ride-share use since the industry’s debut in 2010 haven’t been without issue. Safety has become a significant concern for many ride-share users, with many people citing security as a critical factor in their travel decisions. Safety-related issues not only negatively impact the user experience, but threaten the trusting relationship that ride-share companies have built with their customers. 

A major ride-share company approached The Decision Lab with the aim of improving perceptions of safety for both drivers and riders. Most ride-share journeys go off without a hitch, but like with any other practice, there’s always room to improve personal safety. The goal was to apply the principles of human-centered design to create a unified, global framework and playbook to guide risk communications.

Research on the road

In order to situate our task in best practices, TDL began with an in-depth literature review spanning best digital educational practices, behavioral drivers of effective risk communication, and risk communication frameworks and methodologies.

Our goal was to conduct primary research that investigated ride-share safety from every angle: drivers, riders, and the ride-share company’s employees and decision-makers. We conducted 31 interviews with a sample of key actors at the company, including those in senior operations management and communications. We also surveyed over than 1000 drivers and 350 riders in our client’s priority markets. 

Our research led us to identify nine key factors that contributed to negative driver–rider interactions, sorted into three key themes: value & trust, accessibility & structure, and context & actionability. 

Value & Trust: Many drivers didn’t feel valued or trusted in their roles, and held low amounts of trust for their ride-share company. For example, many felt that risk communications were targeted at protecting the company, rather than the drivers themselves. 

Accessibility & Structure: Though the ride-share company had pre-exisiting educational communications for drivers, they weren’t optimized for digital learning. Their safety messaging was frontloaded — the bulk of the instructional content was shown to drivers as they were being onboarded — and easily forgettable. 

Context & Actionability: Lastly, existing communications made it difficult for drivers to understand reports after they happened (e.g. after a rider filed a complaint), and take action to prevent recurrence in the future. Messaging didn’t provide transparency or context, and many reported that these communications felt reactive and punitive, not proactive and constructive. Drivers felt unfairly blamed or assumed to be at fault. They wanted to be working with the ride-share company, not against it.

Check your blind spots

Interestingly, the most common barrier we found (affecting 71% of all drivers) was one of misaligned expectations — specifically, an inconsistent definition of safety between drivers and their company. These drivers believed that if they followed the legal rules of the road, this was enough to make them a safe driver. However, there are many behaviors that can make riders feel unsafe that aren’t illegal. 

This insight is a great demonstration of why unearthing hidden assumptions is so key to behavior change. Drivers were being held to a standard of safety that they didn’t fully understand, and therefore couldn’t properly adhere to. At the same time, their efforts to uphold what they saw as a reasonable standard of safety were going unrecognized, resulting in an accumulation of bad will between drivers and their company. 

The Playbook

Our client requested an operational guide that they could apply to facilitate more human-centered communications with their drivers. So we developed The Playbook. 

The Playbook operationalized human-centered risk communications with practical guides, examples, and checklists. It contained evidence-based best practices for human-centered communications with all drivers and riders, applied communication principles with examples of human-centered messaging that corresponded to key barriers, and recommendations for new features and UX changes that could help all users feel safe and valued. 

What does The Playbook look like in practice? Recall that many drivers felt unfairly blamed after incidents, like dangerous driving reports. The Playbook identified that exisiting messaging reports overly focused on the negative impacts for the rider experience, not the consequences for drivers. But in order to inspire action, report need to connect the negative rider experience with the potential consequences for drivers - like the average loss in tips after riders report unsafe driving. 

Using The Playbook, our client can easily identify human-centered solutions to the most common problems for drivers - the large majority of which are simple, evidence-based fixes in communication.

Making roads safer for everyone

Equipped with The Playbook and our framework, our client is able to implement our human-centered design recommendations at key roadblocks for drivers. The next step in improving rider safety and driver satisfaction is field-testing our interventions, including measuring driver response to the new, human-centered communications. Once the most effective communications are validated on the road, our client will be able to invest in building a long-term system to assess and monitor barriers to safety for drivers. 

As ride-share services continue to increase in popularity, we want to ensure that no one feels unsafe getting in a car, and that every driver feels valued by their company. Our human-centered design suggestions for improving driver safety is the first step to making ride-share services safe and accessible for all. 

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