What was once a nearly universal rite of passage for teenagers --learning to drive and working (summers / after school) to help pay some of the cost of a vehicle, gasoline, and insurance-- has become a postponed step toward adulthood.

Fewer teens are driving and fewer have proper auto insurance. According to a new study from the Highway Loss Data Institute, when they looked at collision policies in households across 49 states and the District of Columbia, the number of teen drivers listed on those policies fell 12 percent between 2006 and 2012.

But at the same time, the size of the teenage population in the U.S. fell by only 3 percent.

When it comes to why fewer teens are getting insured, the Highway Loss Data Institute (HLDI) has a simple answer: “No jobs, no cars.”

“It looks like teens just can’t afford to drive,” Matt Moore, HLDI’s vice president, said in a statement. “Paying for their own cars, gas and insurance is hard if they can’t find a job. At the same time, kids who count on Mom and Dad to help them also may be out of luck if their parents have been affected by the recession.”

HLDI researchers found teen drivers by identifying “rated drivers” for each household’s policy. A “rated driver” in a household is the driver who has “the greatest loss potential” for an insured car, which the Institute said was “usually the teen driver.”

In its study, the HLDI also broke down figures for rated drivers between 35 years old and 54 years old, calling them “prime-age” drivers. Analyzing the separate age group “provided a control for changes in the number of teen drivers due to factors not specific to teenagers,” according to the Institute.

Researchers found that, in 2006-12, the number of prime-age drivers “also fell, but not as sharply as teen drivers.”

“The result was fewer teen drivers relative to prime-age drivers,” the Institute said, meaning the number of teens insured showing up on the policies fell faster than prime-age drivers.

The HLDI also found that teens were facing a tougher employment picture in that seven-year period than their prime-age counterparts. Teens saw unemployment rates jump by 11 percentage points for teens, compared to 5 percentage points for prime-age workers.

According to the Institute, the gap in unemployment rates between the two age groups widened in 2006-10 “at the height of the recession” and evened out after that period.

The recession may have combined with high unemployment figures and rising car ownership costs to “doubly affect” teenagers, the study said.

In America we view the acquisition of a driver license and driving as an important step toward becoming an independent and productive member of society. I hate to see that step delayed... But on the other hand, if teens are waiting until their 20s to drive and incur the all the responsibilities that come with it, that may help some to gain a bit of maturity along the way.