INFOTAINMENT systems — often in the form of large screens popping up from most dashboards these days — are an essential part of modern-day cars because without them, any new car would be unsaleable.

But new research from the American Automobile Association’s Foundation for Traffic Safety has found the much lauded systems responsible for distracting drivers, often with disastrous effect.

“Some in-vehicle technology can create unsafe situations for drivers on the road,” foundation director Dr David Yang said.

“It increases the time they spend with their eyes and attention off the road and hands off the wheel.”

His views were echoed by Jake Nelson, director of traffic safety advocacy and research at AAA, who said carmakers should improve their systems by preventing people from gaining access to certain features while the vehicle was in motion.

“These are solvable problems,” Nelson said.

By AAA’s estimates, using a touch screen to adjust a navigation system, or even using voice recognition systems to send a text can distract drivers by 40 seconds or more.

The AAA worked with University of Utah researchers to study the time it took drivers to the infotainment system to perform various tasks while driving.

Some vehicles don’t allow drivers to program navigation, but 12 of the 30 current year cars tested did – and drivers took an average 40 seconds to complete the task.

Taking eyes off the road while driving at 40km/h covers the length of four football fields.

The AAA also pointed out that previous research showed that distractions of even two seconds doubled the risk of an accident.

Of the 30 systems tested, 23 demanded what it deemed high or very high levels of attention, seven rated as moderate. None achieved a low ranking — the equivalent of listening to the radio or an audiobook while driving.

The research follows statistics that showed an almost 9per cent increase in fatal crashes in the US.