Distracted driving is dangerous. The RCMP estimate that 80 per cent of collisions are related to distracted driving and 25 per cent are due to cellphone use.
Across Canada, provincial regulations place heavy penalties on distracted driving, with the most severe in Ontario, where using a hand-held device such as a cellphone can cost you up to a $1,000, a three-day driver’s licence suspension and three demerit points. A second conviction within five years ups the ante to a $2,000 fine, six demerit points and a seven-day licence suspension and a third offence is a $3,000 fine and 30-day license suspension.
Driver education on the dangers of distracted driving will help and the severity of the penalties may deter others but there is also help from technology. Subaru has introduced Driver Focus on the 2019 Forester.
It started in 2013 with the introduction of Eyesight — a twin-camera, forward-facing system that looks at the road ahead to provide four features: adaptive cruise control to maintain a safe distance from vehicles ahead; pre-collision braking to slow or stop the car completely when it senses a panic braking situation; pre-collision throttle management to cut power when starting out if a hazard is detected; and lane departure with sway warning alert to help you keep the vehicle in its lane.
While no data is available for Canada, in Japan, Eyesight has shown a 61 per cent reduction in pedestrian collisions and, in the
U.S., a 41 per cent reduction. Now Subaru’s Driver Focus adds an interior camera that works in conjunction with Eyesight to keep the driver focused on what they should be doing — driving. An infrared camera is mounted in the dashboard centre display stack and “maps” the driver’s face features. It really is a digital map rather than a picture and the facial recognition software can also be used to personalize the vehicle for up to five drivers by automatically adjusting the mirrors, seat and climate control settings for each driver.
Privacy is paramount and the facial recognition data is stored only in the vehicle. It cannot be downloaded or shared and can be deleted if desired. During operation, the Driver Focus software monitors the driver’s eyes. It tracks drowsiness, monitoring the amount of time the eyes are closed and the slowness of blinking, or if the driver looks away from the road for more than three to four seconds —such as looking at a cell phone — the system will warn the driver to pay attention. It’s like having a co-driver helping to keep you alert. It also works with Eyesight to provide additional warning if there is an oncoming vehicle and Driver Focus software determines you are looking away from the oncoming vehicle.
There are some limitations to the system. The cameras must be able to see ahead and the driver’s eyes. The forward facing cameras are located inside the car above the interior rear view mirror but can be blocked if the windshield is dirty, and some polarized sunglasses may affect monitoring of the driver’s eyes, although it will work with most sunglasses.
Even when the system is turned off, driver drowsiness is still monitored so it can warn you if you are beginning to get sleepy.
Driver Focus is a distraction mitigation system, helping drivers to pay attention to the road.