Auto Insurance

Could facial recognition software help put a stop to distracted driving?

By: Lisa Coxon on March 4, 2019

If you’re an iPhone X user, you’re probably familiar with the concept of facial recognition technology. Apple designed it so that you can log in to your phone using nothing but your beautiful countenance.

Turns out, the same technological concept is being used inside vehicles to help detect if a driver is distracted.

Subaru is releasing its 2020 Legacy Sedan this fall, complete with DriverFocus facial recognition technology. If you’re driving and turn your sight away from the windshield for too long, or the software thinks you might be getting drowsy, the vehicle will initiate an alarm, followed by a written warning on the dash that says “Keep eyes on the road.”

“It’s a facial recognition software to identify signs of driver fatigue or driver distraction,” Julie Lychak, public relations manager for Subaru Canada Inc., told Canadian Underwriter.

Luxury vehicles like Tesla and BMW feature similar technology. But Lychak said she doesn’t know of any other manufacturer, besides Subaru, that has this sort of technology installed in their “mainstream non-luxury vehicles.”

The 2020 Legacy Sedan is not the first make the manufacturer has equipped with the software, either. The DriverFocus technology is already installed in Subaru’s 2019 Forester compact SUV, which hit the market in fall 2018.

Distracted driving is a big problem in Ontario — so much so that the Ontario Provincial Police named it the number one cause of death on Ontario’s roads, and the provincial government significantly upped the fines for distracted driving earlier this year.

Now, drivers who are charged with distracted driving will face a $1,000 fine and three demerit points, along with a three-day licence suspension. Second convictions will land drivers a $2,000 fine, six demerit points and a seven-day suspension. A third or any subsequent convictions will result in a $3,000 fine, six demerit points and a 30-day suspension.

Drivers are 23 times more likely to be involved in an accident if they’re texting while driving, according to the Insurance Bureau of Canada, and four times more likely if they’re talking on the phone while driving — even if they’re using Bluetooth or some other form of hands-free connection.

In fact, one of the reasons why Subaru decided to install the DriverFocus technology is because of “injury rates.”

Auto insurers have also said that distracted driving is one of the reasons their claims costs are on the rise.

Being distracted at the wheel can mean a few different things. Texting or calling while driving is the most obvious, but under the new rules, the Ministry of Transportation says that programming a GPS while driving is also considered “distracted driving” and subject to the same fines. Programming the GPS via voice commands is allowed.

These rules might have a significant impact on rideshare drivers, who frequently use GPS to collect and drop off fares across their respective cities.