Self-driving car saves man's life

Tesla head Elon Musk and a Model X (Getty)
Tesla head Elon Musk and a Model X (Getty)

A man's life has been saved by a self-driving car after he suffered a pulmonary embolism on his way to work.

Joshua Neally, a lawyer in Missouri, felt sharp pains in his chest and abdomen and was having trouble breathing when he decided to put his Tesla Model X into 'Autopilot' mode, and told it to take him to a hospital.

He had to touch the steering wheel every few minutes to keep it going, but the car otherwise did well - finding a hospital close to a motorway off-ramp where he took over the wheel, despite his intense pain.

Mr Neally's experience comes only a few months after the first confirmed death caused by a self-driving car, which was also a Tesla Model X.

Auckland University computer science lecturer Paul Ralph says it's inevitable self-driving cars will become the norm, whether or not the odd person lives or dies.

"People say self-driving cars are not safe - regular cars are not safe," he told Paul Henry on Wednesday.

"Driving is not safe. Driving kills hundreds of people in New Zealand every year - the question is whether self-driving cars are safer."

Google's autonomous cars haven't killed anyone yet - a widely reported accident in May saw one bump into a median barrier at 15km/h, hardly a public relations disaster compared to the one Tesla endured earlier this year.

In that crash the driver had Autopilot engaged, but both he and the car failed to spot a white tractor-trailer positioned across the road in bright, sunny weather.

Dr Ralph says unlike Google's entirely autonomous vehicles, you're meant to keep your hands on the wheel of a Tesla.

"The Teslas just have an enhanced cruise control, where the car will maintain a lane for you and will do really basic things in an emergency, but they're not entirely autonomous. You're supposed to have your hands on the wheel the whole time, you're not supposed to be playing on your phone or looking away."

But with the "best software engineers in the world" working on self-driving cars, Dr Ralph says the time will come when completely autonomous self-driving cars become the obvious choice - especially for parents.

"Young people seem to be incapable of paying attention to what they're doing. We have the guy in the car chasing Pokémon while driving, then there's the person crossing the road who's not looking because they're chasing Pokémon.

"One of them hits the other one and they die - driverless cars won't do that."