Whether or not you have a driver's license generally will not affect your claim for Social Security or SSI disability. However, the reasons why you don't have a license may help you get approved for benefits.
Not having a driver's license due to non-medical reasons, like a DUI conviction, will not affect your claim. The SSA or an administrative law judge will not care that you cannot drive yourself to a job, nor will they care if driving was a required part of your job and you can't work your prior job because you don't have a license.
If you can't get a driver's license because of your medical condition, or you have had your license revoked because of your medical condition, you can use this to help prove the severity of your impairment. Here is an example.
Tonya filed for disability due to epileptic seizures. The seizures were well controlled because of medication, but Tonya still suffered from them once or twice a month. Because the seizures came without warning, Tonya's driver's license was revoked by her state's Department of Motor Vehicles. After reviewing Tonya's application, the SSA determined that she was not disabled because of how infrequent her seizures were. However, at the appeal hearing, the Tonya's attorney successfully used the license revocation as evidence of how severe her condition was and the extent to which her seizures affected her daily life.
If your condition doesn't qualify for automatic approval based on an impairment listing, the SSA will prepare a residual functional capacity assessment (RFC). An RFC is a detailed report that discusses how your impairment affects your ability to do work-related activities like sitting, standing, pushing, pulling, lifting, carrying, speaking and hearing. RFCs are categorized into sedentary, light, medium, or heavy work. In developing your RFC, the SSA will only consider the reasons why you can't get a license. The fact that you cannot get a license will not affect how your claim is decided.
In one case, the claimant applied for disability due to severe vertigo and tinnitus. The claimant surrendered his driver's license due to his condition. The SSA did not consider his lack of a license when it decided his claim. However, the SSA did look at his symptoms and consider why they prevented him from driving when it established his RFC. The claimant was ultimately approved because his conditions prevented him from sitting or standing more than a few hours a day, not because he couldn't drive.
In another case, the claimant filed for disability due to a back injury that caused chronic pain. The claimant was in pain management and on a regime of narcotics to control her symptoms. The side effects of the medications were severe and impacted her ability to drive. Her physician determined that as long as the claimant was receiving the narcotics, she was unable to drive, and her license was revoked for medical reasons. The SSA took into account the effects of the medication when it prepared the claimant's RFC. The agency decided that although the claimant could do a sedentary job, her inability to focus, concentrate, and follow directions was so impaired by her medications that her ability to work was greatly impacted. Considering the combined effects of the claimant's impaired mental capacity (called non-exertional limitations) and her physical symptoms (called exertional limitations), the SSA approved her claim.
If you are 50 or older and cannot get a driver's license because you are illiterate, the fact that you cannot pass the test can help you win your claim. This is because when deciding disability claims for people 50 and older, the SSA relies on a series of tables called "the grids." The grids take into consideration a person's age, education, past work experience, and education level and then point to a finding of disabled or not disabled. For instance, even if a person aged 50-54 has the RFC for sedentary work, being illiterate may result in an approval of the claim.
Elijah was a 52 year-old man who could not read or write. He was unable to pass the driver's test because of his illiteracy and so he had no license. He filed for disability based on diabetes and heart disease. His only work had been as a seasonal unskilled laborer. The SSA determined he had the RFC to do light work. Because of his age, his past unskilled work, and his illiteracy, the grids directed a finding of disabled despite his RFC. For more information, see our article on the grids.
In some cases, the inability to get a driver's license can help you win your claim. You should contact an experienced disability attorney to discuss your case and see if not having your license can help you get approved. To find a disability attorney in your area, use our attorney locator tool below.