Subaru Driver Monitoring System: does it work?

Published: 13 October 2020

► Subaru’s Big Brother tech tested
► Eye tracking? It’s for your own good
► But do you really need it?

Are you the sort of person who thinks the machines are watching you? Waiting for their moment to strike while you’re at your weakest? Then you may be unnerved by Subaru’s latest safety innovation: the Driver Monitoring System, a name that has a rather Big Brother ring to it. In other markets it’s named Subaru DriverFocus.

DMS uses a camera and infrared LED discreetly mounted on top of the central information display on the dashboard, watching your eyes and head movements for signs of distraction or drowsiness. The use of infrared in the system means it shouldn’t be prevented from doing its job if you’re wearing sunglasses on a sunny drive.

Even before you get out on the road, the car is already using facial-recognition technology. The car can store up to five driver profiles, and as soon as it recognises you it automatically sets the climate control, electric seat position and mirror angle to match the last time you drove – no need to reset all that yourself manually. This is possible once you’ve set up a profile: type in your name, give yourself a picture icon and let it scan your face by looking straight ahead until you hear a beep that tells you your profile’s been stored.

Once I’d registered myself to our test car, a DMS-equipped Subaru Forester e-Boxer, it quickly and reliably recognised me every time I jumped in.

Subaru forester

During my time on the road in the e-Boxer I tried to catch it out in various different ways, and it proved repeatedly that it really does know when your eyes are off the road.

If you look away from the straight-ahead for more than a few seconds, a flashing orange box in the instrument cluster’s screen reminds you to keep your eyes on the road. No argument there. However, it was a little over-eager to prompt me to pay attention on a couple of occasions when I was doing nothing more hazardous than scratching my head, without my hand obscuring my sight.

If your eyes droop from tiredness, or if you were to illegally look at your phone while at the wheel, the car will mute the audio and a louder, more shrill beep will be played, with a red, half-closed eye symbol and a message to ‘Stay Alert!’

Is it necessary? It shouldn’t be, because as drivers we all need to make it our business to be as focused and undistracted as possible, for our own safety and everyone else’s. But that’s not to say it won’t be useful in the right circumstances. The same can be said for driving tired, where it’s a watchful aid to make sure you’re not drifting off at the wheel.

Subaru Driver Monitoring System: how it works

Subaru DMS profile

It knows…
Scan your face to make one of up to five driver profiles. When you get in it will recognise you and adjust your seat and mirror positions.

Subaru DMS eyes on road

It nags…
Look at the scenery too long or look at your passenger too much while talking? A gentle reminder shows up on the dash.

Subaru DMS alert

It awakens…
The system will act with the impact of an alarm clock to jolt you to full alertness if it detects drowsiness.

Subaru Driver Monitoring System: does it work?

Yes. It’s not perfect, being a little over-eager at times. But if its job is to save you from yourself by keeping you awake, alert and focused on driving, then it achieves what it sets out to do. Even so, a responsible and alert driver shouldn’t need it in the first place.

By Jake Groves

CAR's deputy news editor, office Geordie, gamer, lover of hot hatches