The challenges of being unable to drive

New car lot. (Dreamstime/TNS)

While filling out job applications, I always run into the same issue. One of the first questions they ask is if I have a valid driver’s license. And I don’t.

I was born with a condition called nystagmus that reduces my vision to the point that I can’t see well enough to drive. But I worry that if I check “no,” the algorithm will automatically sort me out of the running.


A driver’s license is often used as a proxy for employability, even when the jobs themselves have nothing to do with driving. A friend of mine who doesn’t have a license was looking at paralegal jobs recently and faced the same problem. Too often, employers expect the kind of fast and reliable mobility that is only possible, in most of the country, with a license and car.

It doesn’t have to be this way.

For the first 12 years of my career, I lived in New York City. I don’t think I ever saw a white-collar job posting that mentioned driver’s licenses. In places where there’s reliable public transit and car-less spaces, mobility and employment don’t require access to a license and a vehicle.

Research conducted by the state of Wisconsin found that 31% of its population are nondrivers; in Washington state, it’s 30%. And those numbers are consistent nationally. In addition to those with disabilities like my own, the cost of vehicle ownership, insurance and gas puts car access out of reach for many.

And if you can’t drive or afford to drive, living in communities that require car mobility is an isolating experience, leaving one dependent on favors from family and friends to get anywhere.

As people get ready to set off on summer road trips, I challenge us to reflect on cars as a symbol of American freedom, given that they’re inaccessible for so many of us.

What if, instead, we conceive of a freedom from car dependency? We can build communities where we can all get where we need to go without driving, whether that’s walking, riding the bus, or zooming around on an e-bike or golf cart.

In a world of “15-minute cities,” older adults, as they age out of safe driving, wouldn’t be expected to move into assisted living facilities; young people would be able to get to sports practice without having a parent available to drive them, and disabled nondrivers like me could get to jobs, to school and to the grocery store without relying on favors. With freedom from car dependency, families who are stretched financially wouldn’t need a second — or even a first — car.

We’re obviously not there yet. Too many of our communities were designed specifically for car mobility. But the entrenchment of car dependency only occurred in the last few generations. If we commit now to building communities that create true freedom of mobility, we can make that transformation.

Anna Zivarts is a low-vision parent, nondriver and author of When Driving Is Not an Option: Steering Away from Car Dependency (Island Press, 2024).