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NEPTUNE BEACH, Fla. -- Certain milestones in life are hard to forget.

When you're 16, a driver's license represents independence.

But it seems many teenagers today are not as eager to get behind the wheel.

Duval County Public Schools has seen a sharp decline in the number of students taking driver's education.

Five years ago, the district had nearly 6,000 students enrolled in the elective course.

But every year since, the numbers have been falling.

Fewer than 3,400 students were enrolled in the course during the last school year.

Instructor Bo Galloway noticed the change almost immediately.

"More kids are delaying the licensing process," he said.

Galloway puts some blame on the availability of online driving courses and higher fees imposed by the state.

"That's a deterrent for the kids to go get their license," he said.

But the issue is deeper than that.

Duval County Public Schools is part of a national trend that strays from older generations.

Galloway remembers what it was like when he turned 16.

"You where headed to the DMV to get that license," he recalled. "It usually has a picture that's not that flattering on it."

But Cheyenne Criger, a 17-year-old senior at Duncan Fletcher High School, said it is different today.

"They're (students) just relaxed and waiting," she said.

Fletcher High sophomore Maggie McGee echoed those thoughts, saying she is in no hurry to start driving.

She said, "I want to wait until I'm a bit more comfortable."

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reported the percentage of high school seniors with a license fell from 85% in 1996 to 73% in 2012.

Criger is one of those seniors who can't drive.

"I can't really drive myself anywhere I want to go," she said.

Transportation experts have different theories about this emerging trend, but the economy and technology are common threads.

Some estimates say premiums can double in some states when a parent puts a teenager on their auto policy.

High unemployment rates for teenagers in the work force also make it hard for them to afford auto-related costs.

"Gas is not the cheapest and getting a job is not that easy," said Fletcher High sophomore Shyla Blackmon.

Social media also makes ride-sharing a breeze.

"It's as simple as just pulling out your phone and just texting them, asking them for a ride," McGee said.

And in a surprising turn from before, students said they don't care if they have to hitch a ride with their parents.

"She's always driving me around everywhere," Criger said about getting a ride from her mom.

Blackmon said, "A lot of people ask to get picked up or they're riding the bus."

So instead of setting their sights on the open road, many students are in driver's education for credit.

That way they are able to try and go get their license once they are ready.

"I feel you really shouldn't get a license until you're sure you can do that," McGee said.

But Galloway worries what could happen if this trend continues.

"We begin to lose our driver's ed instructors. They move on to do other things," he said.

His hope is students will become more enthusiastic again about getting a driver's license so enrollment numbers will improve.

"I do think it'll rebound," Galloway said.

Holding off on getting a driver's license can have its down sides, though.

Instructors say it can make it more difficult for teens to squeeze in the required time behind the wheel with a supervisor.

First Coast News also pulled enrollment numbers from Clay and St. Johns Counties.

Neither had sharp declines like Duval County Public Schools, but they also had changes in their programs that officials say likely influenced the numbers.

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