Every single day, evidence of distracted driving surrounds us. Just look around the next time you’re on the freeway. It won’t take long to find someone paying attention to something other than driving.
Worst among the offenders are people who insist on texting while they’re behind the wheel. Just this morning, as I sat at a traffic light waiting to make a left turn, a guy in a new Prius accelerated by me, his face looking at his phone, thumb tapping out a message. This, in spite of the fact that Toyota’s Entune infotainment systems include Siri Eyes Free, which can read your text messages to you and allow you to reply without looking away from the road.
Maybe the guy had an Android phone.
In any case, in part because people are evidently unaware of their ability to use smartphone integration systems like Apple CarPlay and Android Auto for voice-texting, automakers increasingly install driver-monitoring systems in new vehicles.
The trend started more than 10 years ago. Using small cameras that monitor the driver’s eyes and head movements, and by comparing steering inputs to lane keeping cameras, driver monitoring systems can tell when you’re drowsy or distracted and recommend that you take a break and get some rest. Or coffee.
What is Subaru DriverFocus?
With the redesigned 2019 Forester, 2020 Legacy, and 2020 Outback, Subaru takes the traditional approach to driver monitoring systems a step further.
DriverFocus is a distraction mitigation system employing facial recognition technology to determine when you’re sleepy or fiddling with your phone. Like other driver monitoring systems, it then issues visual and audible warnings to encourage you to pay attention. Separately, DriverFocus can also recognize up to five different people, automatically adjusting the car’s seat, mirror, climate, and infotainment settings to individual driver preferences.
Subaru says DriverFocus works whether you’re wearing sunglasses or not. Furthermore, when the technology determines that you’ve stopped paying attention to your driving, the EyeSight driver assistance and collision avoidance systems are more vigilant, reacting to situations faster because the technology assumes that you won’t. However, DriverFocus does not initiate a sequence to stop the vehicle if the driver suffers a medical emergency like Mercedes’ Active Emergency Stop Assist.
During a test drive of the new Forester, I had a chance to experience DriverFocus first-hand. While traveling on the freeway with the SUV’s EyeSight systems engaged, and with a co-pilot monitoring traffic ahead, I turned my head away from the road to gaze at the lush, rolling countryside near Asheville, North Carolina. After three seconds, DriverFocus warned me to look back at the road already.
Subaru, citing research* from the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA), says that in 2015 more than 1,000 Americans were injured in traffic collisions caused by distracted driving. Every. Single. Day.
Beyond this, the NHTSA says that 3,196 of 32,166 crashes resulting in a fatality in 2015 were due to driver distraction, and 3,477 people were killed as a result.
DriverFocus aims to reduce those numbers. Unfortunately, for now, until the new 2020 Legacy and Outback arrive in dealer showrooms, Subaru’s facial recognition distraction mitigation system comes only on the most expensive trim level of the 2019 Forester. But that’s a start.
* Read the Distracted Driving 2015 report