Self-driving Tesla SUV saves Branson man's life

Published: Aug. 6, 2016 at 7:11 PM CDT
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The future is coming, actually, it just drove into the driveway.

We're talking about a Tesla Model X.

Joshua Neally is a Springfield lawyer who lives in Branson. Every day, he commutes up highway 65.

He just bought a high-tech Tesla Model X a couple weeks ago.

"It's the ultimate gadget. It's the coolest technology I've ever seen I would say, let alone owned," says Neally.

Neally likes to show off what's under the hood... a trunk. There's no gas engine, it's all electric. The SUV is full of cool tricks like the cutting-edge 'autopilot' feature.

"I would characterize it as the ultimate cruise control," Neally explains about the autopilot.

Look ma! No hands! It's not an atonomous car, but it will stay in its lane, maintain speed, even brake to avoid crashes.

Neally says the car allows him to take his hands off the wheel for up to four minutes at a time. Then the car lets him know he needs to take the wheel at, least briefly, or else it looks for a spot to pull over and stop on the side of the road.

Designed to avoid accidents, it's a controversial feature. Some people don't trust robots behind the wheel.

In May, a man driving a Tesla on autopilot was killed in a much-publicised crash in Florida.

It cast doubt on the capabilities of the technology.

Then, just a week after Josh bought his space ship on wheels, he was in the middle of his commute home for his daughter's birthday, when he felt a sudden pain.

"A little past Highlandville it just hit where it was the most excruciating pain I've ever had," Neally remembers.

He didn't realize he was having a pulmonary embolism. The blockage of an artery in his lungs could have been fatal.

"It was kinda getting scary. I called my wife and just said 'somethings wrong' and I couldn't breathe, I was gasping, kind of hyperventilating," Neally says he was writhing in pain, and totally distracted from driving.

"I just knew I had to get there, to the ER," says Neally.

So he trusted the self-driving Tesla to stay on the road, until it got near a hospital. Josh was able to drive himself the last couple of blocks to the ER.

Now Neally says he's recovered and is recieving treatment for the issue.

Neally says the Tesla may have saved his life, it certainly helped. It allowed him to get to the emergency room instead of having to pull over and wait for an ambulance.

"I'm very thankful I had it for this experience," Neally says he doesn't want to imagine what might have happened if he'd been in a car that didn't have the autopilot feature.

Now his story is being seen as a counter-example to that fatal Florida crash. In fact, the story is already hitting international headlines.

"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," Neally says. He points out that if he had fallen unconscious, the Tesla would have pulled itself safely to the side of the road after a few minutes.

Joshua says he loves his new car, and thinks self-driving features could save more lives.

"It's not going to be perfect, there's no technology thats perfect, but I think the measure is that it's better and safer."

Neally demonstrated the autopilot feature for the KY3 camera by briefly taking his hands off the wheel, but he says he tries to be an attentive driver and generally keeps his hands on the wheel. That's what Tesla recommends, that the driver remain attentive and ready to take control of the wheel. Tesla says the feature should be treated the same as cruise-control on other cars.