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Tesla’s Autopilot feature saved a man’s life by driving him to the hospital

Tesla Autopilot Feature

Over the past few weeks, there has been quite a bit of discussion surrounding whether or not the risks associated with Tesla’s Autopilot software, in its current incarnation, outweigh the benefits it provides. The debate reached a fever pitch a few weeks ago once word broke that a Tesla owner was involved in a fatal crash when his Model S crashed into a tractor-trailer with the Autopilot feature engaged.

Since then, we’ve heard a handful of other stories involving Tesla crashes and Autopilot missteps, some of which, we should point out, have been wildly sensationalized by those who are quick to claim that Tesla should have never released Autopilot in its current form.

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All that said, we recently stumbled across a story which paints Tesla’s Autopilot feature in a positive light. Indeed, given that we typically only hear about Tesla accidents and not instances where a Tesla helped prevent an accident, we thought that this story was worth sharing.

According to a report from Slate, a Model X owner named Joshua Neally from Branson, Missouri recently used Tesla’s Autopilot feature to help get to a hospital after suffering a pulmonary embolism on the road.

Neally was about 5 miles out of Springfield, near a set of interchanges just beginning to clog with merging vehicles, when he felt something coil and stiffen in his abdomen. At first he thought it was a pulled muscle. But the pain forked upward from his stomach, he said, until it felt like “a steel pole through my chest.” When it refused to subside, Neally remembers calling his wife and agreeing through gasps that he should probably go to the emergency room.

Nealy quickly activated the Model X’s Autopilot feature and relied on it to help him get through heavy traffic. Nealy of course was ultimately responsible for getting himself to the hospital, but Autopilot was able to assume control of the drive for more than 20 miles of highway driving.

As Nealy tells it, Tesla’s Autopilot helped save his life, specifically noting that if he had to assume control of the car for the full 20+ mile trip, he might have very well lost control.

Doctors in Branson told Neally later that he’d suffered a pulmonary embolism, a potentially fatal obstruction of a blood vessel in his lungs. They told him he was lucky to have survived. If you ask Neally, however, he’ll tell you he was lucky to be driving a Tesla. As he writhed in the driver’s seat, the vehicle’s software negotiated 20-plus highway miles to a hospital just off an exit ramp. He manually steered it into the parking lot and checked himself into the emergency room, where he was promptly treated. By night’s end he had recovered enough to go home.

Does this story signal that Autopilot is a godsend and that all our concerns about the feature are overblown? Hardly. Still, the story serves to remind us that Autopilot isn’t a feature that should reflexively be categorized as a dangerous piece of software that should have never been rolled out. Indeed, data suggests that Tesla drivers who activate the Autopilot feature are involved in far fewer serious accidents than the driving public at large.

Yoni Heisler has been writing about Apple and the tech industry at large for over 15 years. A life long Mac user and Apple expert, his writing has appeared in Edible Apple, Network World, MacLife, Macworld UK, and TUAW. When not analyzing the latest happenings with Apple, Yoni enjoys catching Improv shows in Chicago, playing soccer, and cultivating new TV show addictions.