For the parents of today's teens, getting a driver's license was a rite of passage often considered crucial to everything from dating to working—and feeling like an adult.
For today's teens themselves? Not as much.
The percentage of teens with a driver's license has fallen significantly in the past few decades. Experts suspect there's no single explanation for the shift, but cite several possible factors, including prices for high gas and insurance, stricter state driving requirements and a greater willingness to let Mom and Dad do the driving.
"The numbers suggest that fewer teens are wanting to drive," said Karl Brauer, senior director of insights at Kelley Blue Book.
Only 28 percent of 16-year-olds had their driver's license in 2010, compared with about 46 percent of 16-year-olds who were licensed drivers in 1983, according to an analysis of data from the Federal Highway Administration and the Census Bureau data compiled by Michael Sivak and Brandon Schoettle at the University of Michigan.
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Those numbers go up as teens get older, but today's older teens are still less likely to be driving than the teens of the 1980s, according to the University of Michigan analysis. About 70 percent of 19-year-olds had their license in 2010, according to the University of Michigan analysis, compared with 87 percent of 19-year-olds in 1983.
One big potential culprit: Cost. Anyone who's filled their tank lately knows that it takes more than pocket change to drive around, and that's not even including insurance and other maintenance. A recent study from InsuranceQuotes.com found that adding a teenager driver to the family car insurance policy can double annual premiums in some states.
"The total cost of operation has gone up," said George Magliano, senior principal economist with IHS Automotive.
Many older drivers would argue that's why they had a job as a teenager. These days, that's easier said than done, thanks to the difficult job market.
The unemployment rate for 16- to 19-year-olds stood at 24 percent in June, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, more than three times the overall unemployment rate of 7.6 percent that month.
The weak economy of the past five years has likely played some role in keeping teens from getting a driver's license—and parents from footing the bill for their car. But the general trend toward fewer teen drivers has been going on since before the recession began, said Magliano.
"Part of it is a long-term trend and part of it is temporary," he said.
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There's also been a shift in parenting styles in recent decades, and some speculate that today's parents may not be as bothered by being the chauffeur.