Wheel clamp
A wheel clamp, also known as wheel boot or Denver boot, is a device that is designed to prevent vehicles from being moved. In its most common form, it consists of a clamp that surrounds a vehicle wheel, designed to prevent removal of both itself and the wheel.

In the United States
United States
The United States of America is a federal constitutional republic comprising fifty states and a federal district...

, these devices became known as a "Denver boot" after the city of Denver, Colorado
Colorado is a U.S. state that encompasses much of the Rocky Mountains as well as the northeastern portion of the Colorado Plateau and the western edge of the Great Plains...

 was the first in the country to employ them, mostly to force the payment of outstanding parking ticket
Traffic ticket
A traffic ticket is a notice issued by a law enforcement official to a motorist or other road user, accusing violation of traffic laws. Traffic tickets generally come in two forms, citing a moving violation, such as exceeding the speed limit, or a non-moving violation, such as a parking violation,...



It has four main functions:
  • To crack down on unauthorized or illegal parking, in lieu of towing the offending vehicle; in these cases, police or property owners who place the clamp may charge a high "release fee" to remove it
  • For security purposes, such as preventing a car, trailer
    Trailer (vehicle)
    A trailer is generally an unpowered vehicle pulled by a powered vehicle. Commonly, the term trailer refers to such vehicles used for transport of goods and materials....

    , or caravan
    Travel trailer
    A travel trailer or caravan is towed behind a road vehicle to provide a place to sleep which is more comfortable and protected than a tent . It provides the means for people to have their own home on a journey or a vacation, without relying on a motel or hotel, and enables them to stay in places...

     from being driven or towed away by a thief
  • To preclude escape of a prosecuted person
  • To prevent driving by a suspended driver or moving of a disabled vehicle


The wheel clamp, originally known as the auto immobilizer, was invented in 1944 and patented in 1958 by Frank Marugg. Marugg was a pattern maker, a violin
The violin is a string instrument, usually with four strings tuned in perfect fifths. It is the smallest, highest-pitched member of the violin family of string instruments, which includes the viola and cello....

ist with the Denver Symphony Orchestra
Denver Symphony Orchestra
The Denver Symphony Orchestra, established in 1934 and dissolved in 1989, was a professional American orchestra in Denver, Colorado. Until 1978, when the Boettcher Concert Hall was built to house the symphony orchestra, it performed in a succession of theaters, amphitheaters and auditoriums...

, and a good friend to many Denver politicians and police department officials. The police department needed a solution to a growing parking enforcement problem. The city used to tow all ticketed cars to the pound, where they were often vandalized. Those who were ticketed sued the city for the damage and the police had to itemize everything in the cars. Dan Stills, a policeman, thought an immobilizer would avoid the expensive towing problem and approached Marugg with an idea on how to immobilize a vehicle. According to a placemat
A placemat is a protective table pad usually made of paper, plastic or cloth for restaurants and households. Asian-style placemats may feature thin slats of bamboo or colourful beads. The term is derived from the mat being put at a person's "place" at a table.- Uses :Their primary function is to...

 in Gunther Tootie's circa 1960, Frank "developed a special device to lock spare tires mounted on the exterior of cars." In 1944 this device came in handy due to the rubber shortage during the World War II
World War II
World War II, or the Second World War , was a global conflict lasting from 1939 to 1945, involving most of the world's nations—including all of the great powers—eventually forming two opposing military alliances: the Allies and the Axis...

. The placemat also gives credit of the name Denver Boot to Stills, who indicated that it would do for cars what the "Oregon Boot" did for prisoners. The Oregon Boot was a metal ankle-brace worn by convicts.

The Denver police first used the wheel-boot on January 5, 1955 and collected over US$
United States dollar
The United States dollar , also referred to as the American dollar, is the official currency of the United States of America. It is divided into 100 smaller units called cents or pennies....

18,000 (US$ in dollars) in its first month of use. Although the wheel-boot was first cast in steel, Marugg soon switched to a lighter aluminum-based alloy. Marugg later sold the device to parking lot owners, hotels and ski resorts, as well as a Jumbo version for farm equipment and larger vehicles. The Smithsonian Institution
Smithsonian Institution
The Smithsonian Institution is an educational and research institute and associated museum complex, administered and funded by the government of the United States and by funds from its endowment, contributions, and profits from its retail operations, concessions, licensing activities, and magazines...

 now has a copy of Marugg's boot on display in Washington, D.C.

The most infamous wheel clamp in the UK is the 'London Wheel Clamp'. The designer, Trevor Whitehouse and patent owner of device number GB2251416A Filed the patent in 1991. He originally called the device the 'Preston' based on his home town in Lancashire. Primarily used on private land its notoriety of use grew once it was introduced on to the highways under the Road Traffic Regulations Act of 1991. (Commonly known as the de-criminalising of the yellow lines act.) The first areas in the country to be decriminalised were the 33 London Boroughs during 1993/94, hence the name change.


Wheel-clamping is notoriously unpopular with unauthorized parkers. Whereas a traffic warden
Traffic warden
A traffic warden is a non-warranted officer employed by a statutory authority in jurisdictions such as the United Kingdom, Hong Kong and Ireland, to assist in regulating the flow of traffic.- Ireland :...

 or police officer
Police officer
A police officer is a warranted employee of a police force...

 has jurisdiction over public roads, in many countries, the law allows landowners to wheel clamp vehicles parking on their property without permission.

One British man became so annoyed at having his car clamped, that he removed the clamp with an angle grinder
Angle grinder
An angle grinder, also known as a side or disc grinder, is a handheld power tool used for cutting, grinding and polishing.Angle grinders can be powered by an electric motor, petrol engine or compressed air. The motor drives a geared head at a right-angle on which is mounted an abrasive disc or a...

. He subsequently received publicity as a self-styled "superhero
A superhero is a type of stock character, possessing "extraordinary or superhuman powers", dedicated to protecting the public. Since the debut of the prototypical superhero Superman in 1938, stories of superheroes — ranging from brief episodic adventures to continuing years-long sagas —...

" called “Angle-Grinder Man”, offering to remove clamps for free with his angle grinder.

Other motorists have taken the action of cutting the clamps off with bolt cutters or even clamping their own cars beforehand so that property owners will be unable to clamp an already-clamped vehicle and may think that another owner has clamped it. However, the practice of removing clamps is usually only done for those that were installed by firms and other citizens; the removal of clamps installed by authorities (chiefly the police) is an offence.

Legal issues

In Scotland
Scotland is a country that is part of the United Kingdom. Occupying the northern third of the island of Great Britain, it shares a border with England to the south and is bounded by the North Sea to the east, the Atlantic Ocean to the north and west, and the North Channel and Irish Sea to the...

, wheel-clamping on private land is illegal. It was banned by the case of Black v Carmichael 1992 SCCR 709, when wheel-clamping was found to constitute extortion
Extortion is a criminal offence which occurs when a person unlawfully obtains either money, property or services from a person, entity, or institution, through coercion. Refraining from doing harm is sometimes euphemistically called protection. Extortion is commonly practiced by organized crime...

 and theft
In common usage, theft is the illegal taking of another person's property without that person's permission or consent. The word is also used as an informal shorthand term for some crimes against property, such as burglary, embezzlement, larceny, looting, robbery, shoplifting and fraud...


In England and Wales
England and Wales
England and Wales is a jurisdiction within the United Kingdom. It consists of England and Wales, two of the four countries of the United Kingdom...

, wheel-clampers operating on private land must be individually licensed by the Security Industry Authority
Security Industry Authority
The Security Industry Authority is the organisation responsible for regulating the private security industry in the UK. It is a non-departmental public body reporting to the Home Secretary and was established in 2003 under the terms of the Private Security Industry Act 2001.The SIA has two main...

. Operating in such circumstances without a valid license, or in breach of its conditions (which include displaying ID
Identity document
An identity document is any document which may be used to verify aspects of a person's personal identity. If issued in the form of a small, mostly standard-sized card, it is usually called an identity card...

 at all times), is a criminal
Crime is the breach of rules or laws for which some governing authority can ultimately prescribe a conviction...

 offence under the Private Security Industry Act 2001. The Protection of Freedoms Bill 2011
Protection of Freedoms Bill 2011
The Protection of Freedoms Bill is a parliamentary bill before the British House of Commons introduced in February 2011, by Home Secretary, Theresa May.The Bill is sponsored by the Home Office...

 seeks to make wheel-clamping on private land illegal.

Despite it being illegal for private operators to immobilize vehicles with these types of devices in Washington State, the practice continues.

In Ireland
Republic of Ireland
Ireland , described as the Republic of Ireland , is a sovereign state in Europe occupying approximately five-sixths of the island of the same name. Its capital is Dublin. Ireland, which had a population of 4.58 million in 2011, is a constitutional republic governed as a parliamentary democracy,...

, private clamping is illegal under Section 113 the Road Traffic Act 1961 as amended by the Road Traffic Act (Amendment) 1984. However, it is still extremely common as the arcane language of these provision is beyond many.

External links

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