Tesla Motors' Autopilot has been under fire recently after a fatal accident that claimed the life of Model S driver Joshua Brown, but in recent news, the self-driving car feature proved that it can save lives too.
In late July, Joshua Neally, the 37-year-old owner of a Tesla Motors Model X SUV who lives in Branson, Missouri, was driving home from work to get to his daughter's birthday. He activated the Autopilot feature upon entering the highway.
Neally then felt what he described as "the most excruciating pain [he's] ever had," he told local NBC affiliate KY3.
He did not know that he was having what is termed as pulmonary embolism, which is a blockage in an artery in his lungs that could be fatal. Neally called his wife to let her know that there was something wrong, while he was writhing in pain and not able to focus on the road.
Neally knew he had to get to an emergency room. He allowed the Autopilot to control the Model X over a stretch of more than 20 miles until he got to an exit ramp that is near a hospital, before he took over control of the vehicle in the last couple of blocks to the emergency room.
Neally, who now recovered from the incident and is currently receiving treatment, claims that the Model X's Autopilot may have saved his life, as it allowed him to continue moving toward the hospital instead of having to make a call and wait for an ambulance.
It may have been more prudent to go with that option, Neally acknowledged, but he thought that he could get to the hospital faster by using the Autopilot feature. He also wonders if, without the self-driving feature, he would have lost control of the vehicle when he started experiencing the convulsions.
"It's not going to be perfect, there's no technology that's perfect, but I think the measure is that it's better and safer," Neally said about the Autopilot of his Model X, believing that the feature could help in saving more lives in the future.
The incident serves as a counterpoint to the accident that took the life of Brown, who died in the first self-driving car fatality. The Model S that he was riding in, while Autopilot was engaged, was not able to detect a tractor trailer that was driving across the highway that the electric sedan was on. The failure to detect the tractor trailer was said to be due to it being colored white and the sky behind it being very bright.
According to Slate though, the experience of Neally does not prove the worth of Tesla Motors' Autopilot as a safety feature any more than the death of Brown disproves it, with several such stories of lives being saved by the feature emerging since Brown's accident. These stories may show that the feature does provide additional safety measures to drivers, but it will be tough for these anecdotes to allay the concerns of regulators and the public alike.