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, these devices became known as a "Denver boot" after the city of Denver. Colorado was the first in the country to employ them, mostly to force the payment of outstanding parking tickets.
It has four main functions:
- To crack down on unauthorised 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, or caravan 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 immobiliser, was invented in 1944 and patented in 1958 by Frank Marugg. Marugg was a pattern maker, a violinist with the Denver Symphony Orchestra, 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 vandalised. Those who were ticketed sued the city for the damage and the police had to itemise everything in the cars. Dan Stills, a policeman, thought an immobiliser would avoid the expensive towing problem and approached Marugg with an idea on how to immobilise a vehicle.
The Denver police first used the wheel boot on 5 January 1955 and collected over US$18,000 (US$156,857 in 2013 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 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 grew once it was introduced to public roads 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 unauthorised parkers. Whereas a traffic warden or police officer 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. He subsequently received publicity as a self-styled "superhero" 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.
A New Zealand wheel clamper made national headlines in 2013 after he secretly recorded a police officer allegedly threatening to not help if an aggrieved member of the public attacked him. It was not the first time the clamper involved had been in the news.
In Scotland, local authorities are permitted by statute to clamp, tow, or otherwise remove vehicles. Outside that statutory authority, clamping on private land was found to be unlawful in the case Black v Carmichael (1992) SCCR 709, which held that immobilising a vehicle constitutes extortion and theft. Writing in dismissal of parking contractor Alan Black's appeal to the High Court of Justiciary, Lord Justice General Hope cited case law which said "every man has a right to dispute the demand of his creditor in a court of justice" and himself wrote "it is illegal for vehicles to be held to ransom in the manner described in these charges".
In England and Wales, The Protection of Freedoms Act 2012 criminalised certain wheel-clamping activity on private land without lawful authority from 1 October 2012. This prohibits clamping in many common locations such as supermarket car parks, but clamping is not entirely banned. For example, a railway operator may clamp a vehicle under the provisions of Railway Byelaw 14(4).
Despite it being illegal for private operators to immobilise vehicles with these types of devices in Washington State, U.S.A., the practice continues. In February 2013 charges were laid against a private parking operator, along with the property owner, in the city of Los Angeles for attaching wheel clamps to vehicles in a privately owned parking lot.
In the Republic of Ireland, private clamping of cars not owned by the property owner is illegal under Section 113 the Road Traffic Act 1961 as amended by the Road Traffic Act (Amendment) 1984[original research?]. However, it is still extremely common as the arcane language of these provisions is beyond many.
A wheel clamp is a key plot element in the 1997 The Simpsons episode, "The City of New York vs. Homer Simpson". In the episode, Barney Gumble borrows Homer Simpson's car and abandons it outside the World Trade Center complex, in Manhattan. When Homer arrives to retrieve the vehicle, he finds that a wheel clamp has been put on it. Homer waits for a parking officer to remove the clamp, but the officer turns up while Homer is using the restroom inside one of the towers. In frustration, Homer decides to drive the car with the clamp still attached (Wrecking his car in the process), eventually removing it with a construction worker's jackhammer.
- Lowe, David (2005). The Transport Manager's and Operator's Handbook 2006. London: Kogan Page. p. 255. ISBN 0-7494-4488-6. Retrieved 21 March 2011.
- "Denver boot". Merriam-Webster Dictionary. Retrieved 21 March 2011.
- Acton, Johnny; Adams, Tania; Packer, Matt (2006). Origin of Everyday Things. Sterling Publishing. p. 309. ISBN 978-1-4027-4302-3. Retrieved 21 March 2011.
- Marugg, F.P. (29 July 1958). "Wheel Clamp US patent number 2,844,954". Retrieved 1 February 2011.
- Consumer Price Index (estimate) 1800–2013. Federal Reserve Bank of Minneapolis. Retrieved March 31, 2013.
- "Denver Boot Interview". Expo1000.com. Retrieved 13 August 2010.
- Murdock, Linda (Autumn 2005). "The Man Who Invented the Denver Boot, Frank P. Marugg and His Infamous Auto Immobilizer". Colorado Heritage: 40–47. "article includes bibliography"
- 'Superhero' takes on clampers 16 September 2003
- "Clamper: public enemy no 1". 3 News NZ. March 7, 2013.
- "Attempt to remove wheel clamps fails". Stuff.co.nz. December 15, 2012.
- "Carmichael v. Black, High Court of Justiciary HCJ Appeal [The Lord Justice-General(Hope), Lords Allanbridge and Cowie]". Scottish Court Service.
- Heckman, Candace (22 January 2005). "Company ordered to stop using wheel clamp to immobilize cars". Seattle Post-Intelligencer.
- Lewis, Peter (8 April 2005). "Lawmakers give solid boot to vehicle-clamping practice". Seattle Times.
- "McDonald’s Restaurant Owner and Parking Company Each Charged With Illegally "Booting" Vehicles In Parking Lot" (Press release). From the office of the city attorney Carmen A. Trutanich. February 14, 2013. Retrieved 9 April 2013.
- "Los Angeles Restaurant And Parking Company Charged For Illegally “Booting” Cars". California Business Law Report. March 4, 2013. Retrieved 9 April 2013.
|Wikimedia Commons has media related to Wheel clamp.|
- KRQE News 13 Online – 'Boot Dispute Settled With Bolt Cutters'
- BBC News Online – 'Superhero' takes on clampers
- Reporting Vehicle Immobilisers – in case you were illegally clamped or given no receipt, you can report a vehicle immobiliser to the SIA (Security Industry Authority).
- SIA Conditions of License for wheel-clampers acting on private land
- KTTV: "Fox 11 Investigates: 'Getting the Boot'"