Canberra: Portable touch-screen devices in cars distract drivers and increase the risk of accidents, Australian scientists said Wednesday.

The research team was led by author Kristie Young from the Monash University Accident Research Center of Australia, Xinhua reported.

'They've often got really small text or their menu structures are quite complex, so drivers have spend a lot of time to find a particular item,' Young said in a statement.

'When drivers' eyes are off the road they miss the visual cues from the road environment to make micro-corrections to their steering to stay on the correct path and also to maintain a safe distance from the lead vehicle.'

'The amount of information that they can gather from that short glance back to the roadway might not be sufficient. The heading and following errors build up and become more increased over time because they aren't making those adjustments that they need to stay on the correct path.'

Young and her team assessed the ability of 37 people to stay in their lane and stay a safe distance behind another vehicle while searching for songs in a list of tunes on an iPod Touch device by using computer driving simulations. These devices include different types of MP3 players, smartphones, GPS and PDAs.

Young said the main problems with portable devices being brought into cars is that they are not designed primarily for use by drivers. These devices use scrolling mechanisms and finger flicks to locate songs on a touch-screen. Without any tactile feedback, drivers need to look at the device to keep track of where they are up to in the task.

The researchers found that the drivers not only have their eyes off the road for a significantly much more time, they were also more likely to veer off the center of their lane, and misjudge the distance to the car in front. To compensate for the distraction, drivers tended to slow down and take more frequent glances at the device. However, Young pointed out it was not a safe strategy.

According to the research, over 40 percent of drivers own a portable music player will use it while driving, with half of them were young drivers. Young said previous experience showed that younger drivers are more likely engaged in distracting activities.

The impact of that distracting activity is likely to be greater on their driver performance because they lack the level of driver experience and skill to be able to handle those increased risks.

That's the finding of an Australian study, published in the journal Applied Ergonomics, which analyzed the impact of using touchscreen devices on driving skills.

(Agencies)