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Tesla on autopilot drives man to hospital during life-threatening medical episode

The car manufacturer's self-drive function was also allegedly involved in three recent accidents, one of them fatal

Tim Walker
US Correspondent
Tuesday 09 August 2016 02:01 BST
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Tesla CEO Elon Musk unveils the company's Model X vehicle at an event in California in 2015
Tesla CEO Elon Musk unveils the company's Model X vehicle at an event in California in 2015 ((Getty Images))

A month ago, Tesla came under fire as it emerged that a Florida man had been killed in a collision with a lorry while using the self-drive feature on one of its Model S vehicles. Now, the same function appears to have saved a second driver’s life.

One afternoon in July, Joshua Neally, a 37-year-old Missouri lawyer, was driving his brand new Tesla Model X home from his office in Springfield to his daughter’s fourth birthday, when he felt a sharp pain in his abdomen that would later say felt like “a steel pole through my chest”.

Instead of calling an ambulance, Mr Neally put his car into autopilot mode and pointed it towards the nearest hospital. The car drove itself some 20 miles, arriving just shy of the hospital’s accident and emergency department, where Mr Neally summoned the strength to steer it the final few feet into a parking space, before checking himself in.

It turned out that he was suffering a pulmonary embolism, a potentially fatal blockage of an artery in the lungs, which doctors said he was lucky to survive.

Although it is described as autopilot, the Tesla’s self-drive function does require drivers to pay attention to the road and touch the wheel at intervals. The man killed in Florida in May was allegedly watching a Harry Potter film when his car ploughed into the lorry.

Last month, two more Tesla cars on autopilot were involved in non-fatal, single-vehicle accidents in Montana and Pennsylvania. The US National Highway Traffic Safety Administration is investigating the technology.

Last month Tesla CEO Elon Musk countered criticism of the self-drive feature, insisting it was statistically safer than a real person’s driving, and claiming it would thus be “morally reprehensible to delay release [of the technology] simply for fear of bad press or some mercantile calculation of legal liability.”

Mr Neally told local news station KY3 that he was “thankful” the self-drive feature was there when he needed it, describing his vehicle – which he nicknamed Ender, after the hero of the sci-fi novel Ender’s Game – as “the ultimate gadget”.

“If something like that happens where I become unconscious or incapacitated while I'm driving, I'm not going to cross over the interstate and slam into somebody or slam into one of the big rock walls,” he said.

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