A driver's license used to be one of the very first rites of passage for teenagers - coming even before the secondary school diploma or the right to purchase alcohol. But fewer teens are jumping at the first chance to get their licenses - at least in the U.S. The reasons why are varied, but the fact is that the percentage of 16-year-olds holding driver's licenses in America has dropped from nearly half to fewer than one-third.

Some teens just don't want to face the risks of driving. Programs that allow teens to tour accident sites with police officers put the fear of bodily harm and death into the forefront of their minds. In other cases, high insurance rates and private driving schools push the cost too high for many to afford. And in some states, it's simply not much fun to hold a license when driving is limited to daylight hours.

Instead of enjoying the freedom of driving themselves wherever they please, teens are also taking advantage of the freedom to text, chat on the phone and play video games afforded by being chauffeurred by their parents. Whatever the reasons, the Federal Highway Administration quotes the number of licensed 16-year-olds in the U.S. at 29.8 percent in 2006, compared to 43.8 percent in 1998, reports The New York Times.

Nobody is yet asking whether this is just an indicator of the death of the car culture in America, a nation that once idolized the automobile and prized the freedom it represented. Classics like Jack Kerouac's On the Road or any of Hunter S. Thompson's manic antics chronicled in his various works may be just that - classics, relics of an age now gone. But then again, it could be that today's generation hasn't lost its love for the automobile - it just prefers the passenger seat.