Slate tells the harrowing story of Joshua Neally, a 37-year-old attorney in Springfield, Missouri who claims that his Tesla Model X’s autopilot feature saved his life. Neally was driving home in late July when he suddenly felt something like “a steel pole through my chest.”
Neally was in gathering highway traffic as the pain mounted rapidly. In the moment, Neally tells Slate he calculated he could reach the hospital faster by Autopilot than if he had stopped and called an ambulance. So he let his Model X take over for more than 20 miles, until reaching an off-ramp near a hospital in Branson. Neally steered the car the final stretch himself, and made his way to the emergency room.
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He was treated and survived, but doctors told him he was lucky to be alive. He had suffered a pulmonary embolism, a blockage of lung arteries that kills 50,000 people a year. Seventy percent of those deaths come within an hour of onset of symptoms.
The anecdote is a counterpoint to anxiety over the June death of a driver using Autopilot in a Tesla Model S. As Slate points out, there have been multiple similar cases of Autopilot or automatic safety features saving lives, though more typically, that’s by avoiding obstacles or preventing collisions.
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It’s important to note that the driver here had to drive the final bit of the way to the hospital on his own, through considerable pain. Autopilot in its current form is only really cut out for highway driving, and a car able to get an injured or suddenly impaired driver to their destination without any help at all is likely some time off.