LINCOLN — Some Nebraska lawmakers are ready to embrace autonomous vehicles. Other senators on Thursday appeared reluctant to let go of the steering wheel.

Legislative Bill 989, introduced by Sen. Anna Wishart of Lincoln, would allow the City of Lincoln to conduct a pilot program with autonomous shuttles running in the city’s downtown area.

The bill was broadened by an amendment from Sen. Tyson Larson of O’Neill that authorizes driverless vehicles to operate on public roads in Nebraska and lays out the rules and regulations for operating them.

Supporters argued that the bill and an amendment from Larson would make Nebraska a leader in autonomous vehicles.

“We as a state have an opportunity to be a leader in an industry that is continuing to grow and will continue to grow,” Larson said.

Wishart said that regardless of whether senators are excited or wary about autonomous cars, they’re happening. She said there are a lot of safety standards in Larson’s amendment that would ensure that any autonomous vehicle on the road would need to be as capable as any other car on the road.

Other senators were hesitant and said there are too many unknowns about autonomous vehicles to fully embrace them yet.

Sen. Curt Friesen of Henderson, chairman of the Transportation and Telecommunications Committee, supported Wishart’s bill but said Larson’s amendment went too far. He said that allowing the vehicles without running a pilot program first is “foolish and risky.”

“Let’s do it in a nice orderly fashion,” Friesen said. “Let’s make sure the technology is up to it.”

“I don’t think these cars should be on the road,” said Sen. Ernie Chambers of Omaha. The senator said there are too many unanswered questions about them.

Senators voted 32-1 to adopt Larson’s amendment to the bill, then ran out of the allotted time to further discuss the bill.

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Emily covers K-12 education, including Omaha Public Schools. Previously, Emily covered local government and the Nebraska Legislature for The World-Herald. Follow her on Twitter @emily_nitcher. Phone: 402-444-1192.

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