Your car is watching you

Moving Well | Greg Hill | Posted on 06 July 2019

Futuristic car safety technology can recognise when a driver is drowsy or distracted.   

It has long been recognised that driver drowsiness and distraction are contributing factors in a large number of serious and fatal car accidents, and driver-alert warning systems that detect erratic use of the steering wheel or accelerator have been around for some years.

But Subaru’s Driver Monitoring System (DMS), introduced in its mid and upper-grade MY19 Forester models, takes detection to the next level. 

Subaru dashboard reminding driver to remain alert while driving

The system uses a dedicated infrared LED camera installed in the visor of the multi-function display (MFD) to monitor the driver’s seat area. It scans for changes in facial orientation and patterns in eye-opening and blinking time that indicate fatigue, drowsiness or inattention.

When the system detects a problem it triggers both audible and visual warnings on the instrument cluster and MFD to alert the driver and any passengers. Distractions such as looking at a phone and reading a text will also trigger the alarms.

The system does not take photos, but it does map and store the driver’s facial features. First the driver must be registered in a step-by-step process laid out in the owner’s handbook. Up to five drivers can be registered in the computer system’s memory.

Dashboard alert reminding driver to pay attention to the road
Car monitoring system sensing that driver has taken eyes off the road

Every time a registered driver gets in and starts the car, a personal greeting is displayed on the MFD and, depending on the spec grade, the driver’s seat, door mirrors, climate control and some instrument displays are automatically adjusted to the individual’s pre-set preferences.   

In practice, we found the DMS a little fiddly to set up, but this only needs to be done once. It works well and complements Subaru’s excellent EyeSight driver-assist system which incorporates autonomous emergency braking, lane-keep assist and enhanced pedestrian avoidance.

There are minor limitations, however. For example, it requires a clear view of the driver’s face and eyes, so the functionality may be reduced if the driver is wearing dark sunglasses or a hat. The owner’s manual describes the circumstances that could reduce the DMS’s capability and performance.