SEATTLE -- When three women visiting the Seattle area took a wrong turn while following a GPS early Wednesday morning, they and the Mercedes SUV they were in ended up in a pond.
But they're not the first GPS users to get confused and end up stuck, or worse.
From 2006 to 2010, there were 623 collisions, two of them fatal, reported in Washington state in which an electronic device -- other than a phone or audio-entertainment system -- such as a GPS or computer, contributed to the crash, according to the state Department of Transportation.
And that doesn't take into account all of the people who ended up somewhere other than their intended destination.
The women who went into Mercer Slough in the SUV got wet and their vehicle sank, but they were lucky and all ended well, said Carla Iafrate, spokeswoman for the Bellevue Police Department.
The women, all in their 30s and from Mexico, were driving back to the Embassy Suites in Bellevue's Eastgate neighborhood around midnight when they went west on Interstate 90 instead of east. They made a turn off Bellevue Way Southeast and drove down the Sweyolocken boat ramp right into the water, Iafrate said.
The three, who primarily speak Spanish and needed an interpreter to explain to police what happened, called 911 to say their car was floating, Iafrate said. "They said something about being in a jungle."
She said the women were in town for a Costco convention. They could not be reached for comment.
One longtime GPS user in Seattle, Paul Unwin, said the device is always trying to lead him off bridges.
Unwin has not paid close attention to that advice, though he did follow its directions into a desert outside Tucson, Ariz., when he was headed to a stargazing party.
"I thought, 'Let's just punch it into the GPS and it'll take us there,' " said Unwin. But pretty soon he was 10 or 15 miles down a dirt road that had cactuses lying across it, and the path kept getting rougher. He eventually turned back, but said he understands how the three women could get confused when driving through unfamiliar territory at night.
"It reminds me that you can't always trust what the GPS is telling you, and if you're unsure of the area take a little extra bit of caution," he said.
Drivers shouldn't panic if they take the wrong exit, says Washington State Trooper Julie Startup.
She recalled an accident where a driver using a GPS was confused about which exit ramp to take and ran into a barrier.
"The beauty of the GPS unit is that if you do make an error, the GPS is going to correct it," she said.
Startup wasn't personally aware of any big collisions involving GPS devices, but noted the limitations of the technology. "Even the most advanced units are not going to be able to account for a road closure or debris in the road," she said.
In April 2008, a charter-bus driver who was using a GPS system crashed into a bridge in Seattle's Washington Park Arboretum. The Garfield High School softball team was on the bus and more than 20 students were taken to the hospital. The driver did not see the flashing yellow lights or signs indicating that a low bridge was down the road.
It's critical that drivers keep an eye on the road: GPS usage can be distracting and lead to drivers who don't stay in their lane, or follow other cars too closely or can't keep an even speed, said Oregon State Police Lt. Gregg Hastings
Carly Baltes, with GPS maker Garmin International, said it's the driver's responsibility to exercise common sense.
"GPS devices provide route suggestions. They do not cause drivers to make driving decisions," Baltes said.
And the owner's manual warns users against distractions, like plugging new coordinates into the GPS while driving, Baltes said.
For Unwin, his GPS has saved him from numerous headaches.
"I really love it," he said. "It saves a ton of gas because you're not driving around lost ... but it's not perfect."
(Distributed by Scripps Howard News Service, www.scrippsnews.com)