A Missouri man might not have made it safely to the hospital without the aid of his Tesla Model X’s self-driving features (via Slate). Joshua Neally, the 37-year old Model X owner, was on the way home from his law firm after work when he was struck by a pulmonary embolism. Neally allowed the Autopilot system to take over for 20 miles of highway driving, which brought the vehicle and its driver to an off-ramp close to a hospital, where he was able to finish the trip.
Tesla’s Autopilot system may be under scrutiny after an accident in Florida earlier this year resulted in a driver death, but this is an example of where it definitely helped the operator of the vehicle. The obvious question that comes to mind is whether it would’ve been safer on the whole for Neally to pull over and call an ambulance instead of relying on his own car’s self-driving features, since Neally admits he didn’t “remember much of the drive” after his embolism began.
But whether or not Neally made the right call in continuing to drive himself, it proves the importance and necessity of offering safety features like Autopilot: In clutch situations like a medical emergency where we feel like our life is on the line, very few people can be relied upon to make the sane, logical and most conscientious choice about our actions.
Neally told Branson local NBC affiliate KY3 that he “just knew [he] had to get [to the ER]” once he began feeling the symptoms of the pulmonary embolism – in other words, he was essentially panicking and his instinct kicked in, convincing his brain the best course of action was to get to the hospital as quickly as possible.
Continuing to drive while under extreme physical duress might not have been the best choice, but it was the human one, and that’s what makes Autopilot’s role in getting Neally to the hospital in one piece so poignant. Plus, the fact that Neally had a choice at all is a chance outcome of the severity of the embolism: If it had been something more severe, and he wasn’t able physically to continue driving or make a decision, Autopilot would’ve engaged its failsafe mode, which decelerates the vehicle, turns on the four-way hazard lights and slowly moves the car to the roadside.
You can argue about whether or not a driver in this situation is more or less likely to continue driving rather than pull over and call an ambulance since the system is present to begin with, but you can also debate whether allowing Autopilot to drive was more or less safe than other options. What you can’t argue is that people will always make the most rational and informed decision when their life feels immediately threatened, and that’s where autonomous technologies stand to make the most impact.