Wheel clamp

Last updated

A modern wheel clamp placed on a vehicle for a parking violation in Melbourne by the Victorian Sheriff; note the tire spikes and panel preventing the vehicle being driven or the wheel being removed Wheel clamped BMW5Series, Little Collins St, Melb, 19.10.2011, jjron crop.jpg
A modern wheel clamp placed on a vehicle for a parking violation in Melbourne by the Victorian Sheriff; note the tire spikes and panel preventing the vehicle being driven or the wheel being removed
Wheel clamp as used by the Los Angeles Department of Transportation Denver boot.jpg
Wheel clamp as used by the Los Angeles Department of Transportation

A wheel clamp, also known as wheel boot, parking boot, or Denver boot, [1] [2] is a device that is designed to prevent motor 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, the device became known as a "Denver boot" after the city of Denver, Colorado, which was the first place in the country to employ them, mostly to force the payment of outstanding parking tickets. [3]

While primarily associated with law enforcement and parking violations, a variety of wheel clamps are now available to consumers as theft deterrent devices for personal use as an alternative to the steering-wheel lock.


Wheel clamps have five main functions:


An early wheel clamp device offering a $100 reward for arrest of tamperers, mounted on a 1920 Hudson 1920 Hudson Speedster Touring at 2015 Rockville Show 8of8.jpg
An early wheel clamp device offering a $100 reward for arrest of tamperers, mounted on a 1920 Hudson

As the automobile was introduced and became popular, cars also became a target for thieves and for a new concept that became known as joyriding. A variety of after-market security devices were introduced. An early invention were locking wheel clamps or chocks that owners could shackle onto one of the car's road wheels as a hobble, making it impossible to roll the vehicle unless the entire wheel was removed. Between 1914 and 1925 there were at least 25 patents related to wheel locks that attached on the tire and spoke wheel. [4] These devices were available in many sizes from a number of manufacturers (including several patented by Miller-Chapman), and became popular during the early 1920s. [5] [6]

A version of the modern wheel clamp, originally known as the auto immobiliser, was invented in 1944 and patented in 1958 by Frank Marugg. [7] Marugg was a pattern maker, a violinist with the Denver Symphony Orchestra, and a friend of many Denver politicians and police department officials. The police department needed a solution to a growing parking enforcement problem. The city towed ticketed cars to the pound, where they were often vandalised. Those whose cars were damaged sued the city for losses and the police had to itemize everything in the cars. Dan Stills, head of the city's traffic division, thought an immobilizer would avoid the expensive towing problem and approached Marugg with an idea to improve on the device to keep the cars where they were parked. [8]

The Denver police first used the wheel boot on 5 January 1955 and collected over US$18,000 (US$170,000 in 2020 dollars [9] ) 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. [10] [11] By 1970 Marugg had sold 2,000 boots. Although the patent ran out in 1976 and modern car and truck wheels necessitated a redesign, Marugg's daughter kept up the business until 1986. Clancy Systems International, later bought the rights to the boot. The boot allowed Denver to maintain one of the largest collection rates for parking fines of any city in the US through its first fifty years. [11]

The best known wheel clamp in the UK is the 'London Wheel Clamp'. The designer, Trevor Whitehouse filed the patent in 1991. [12] He originally called the device the 'Preston', after 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. While a traffic warden or police officer has jurisdiction over public roads, in many countries, the law allows landowners to 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. [13]

Other motorists have cut 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.[ citation needed ]

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. [14] It was not the first time the clamper involved had been in the news. [15]

There was a 2017/18 illegal boot operation around Los Angeles where a scammer booted unsuspecting drivers and demanded a high release fee. People were instructed to call 911 and report the scam if they fell victim. It has since ceased, and the scammer was arrested.

Several vehicles wheel-clamped at University of North Texas, Denton, Texas Wheel clamps Texas.jpg
Several vehicles wheel-clamped at University of North Texas, Denton, Texas

United Kingdom

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, the Lord Justice General (Lord 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". [16]

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). [17] The act of clamping is still lawful by the police, DVLA, local authority, etc. but not by a private person or company acting on behalf of their own interests on either public or private property. For example, a person cannot lawfully be clamped on property such as a hospital site, private driveway, car park not operated by a local or government authority, etc. The only exception to this is if the clamping company are acting on behalf of a government agency e.g. contracted on behalf of the DVLA. [18] To allow landowners to deal with unauthorised vehicles the same statute allows land owners to hold the registered keeper of a vehicle liable for any charges relating to breach of contract under certain circumstances. Landowners who seek to enforce 'Parking Charge Notices' [19] (contractual payment terms) establish the contract through the use of onsite signage [20] detailing the 'conditions'.

United States

A wheel clamp that was removed from a vehicle. This device has a keypad where the driver can obtain a code over the phone and remove it after paying a fee. Wheel Clamp New Orleans on ground Open.JPG
A wheel clamp that was removed from a vehicle. This device has a keypad where the driver can obtain a code over the phone and remove it after paying a fee.

Despite it being illegal for private operators to immobilise vehicles with these types of devices in the U.S. state of Washington, the practice continues. [21] [22] 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. [23] [24]


Clamped car in Ireland, with note on driver's side window warning the owner not to attempt to drive away. Clamped car, Ireland.jpg
Clamped car in Ireland, with note on driver's side window warning the owner not to attempt to drive away.

In the Republic of Ireland, clamping in public places is legal under a 1988 amendment to the Road Traffic Act 1961. [25] [26] Clamping in private car parks is widespread but not regulated by statute, and the legality of the practice is unclear. [25] [27] The breaches for which an "immobilisation device" may be fitted under the 1961 act are those specified in sections 35, 36, and 36A of the Road Traffic Act 1994 as amended (respectively "Regulations for general control of traffic and pedestrians", "Parking of vehicles in parking places on public roads", and "Bye-laws for restriction on parking – specified events" [28] ). [26] Regulations under the 1994 act are made by statutory instrument by the minister responsible for transport (currently the Minister for Transport, Tourism and Sport). [28] Local authorities have delegated the clamping activity to private companies. [25] This contrasts with traffic wardens, who are employees of the authority.

Existing statutory provisions are due to be replaced by the Vehicle Clamping Act 2015, passed as part of the Fine Gael–Labour coalition's 2011 programme for government. [25] [29] [30] The 2015 act regulates private as well as public clamping. [29] [25] [30] [27] It also seeks to improve and standardise the level of fines and the appeals process, which have been the focus of public dissatisfaction. [30]

See also

Related Research Articles

Motor vehicle theft Theft of vehicles

Motor vehicle theft is the criminal act of stealing or attempting to steal a motor vehicle. Nationwide in the United States in 2012, there were an estimated 721,053 motor vehicle thefts, or approximately 229.7 motor vehicles stolen for every 100,000 inhabitants. Property losses due to motor vehicle theft in 2012 were estimated at $4.3 billion. 15,037 cars with comprehensive insurance were stolen in Germany in 2018 alone. This evens out to one stolen car every 35 minutes. Car thieves caused losses of 298 million euros.

Parking Act of stopping and disengaging a vehicle and usually leaving it unoccupied

Parking is the act of stopping and disengaging a vehicle and leaving it unoccupied. Parking on one or both sides of a road is often permitted, though sometimes with restrictions. Some buildings have parking facilities for use of the buildings' users. Countries and local governments have rules for design and use of parking spaces.

Car alarm

A car alarm is an electronic device installed in a vehicle in an attempt to discourage theft of the vehicle itself, its contents, or both. Car alarms work by emitting high-volume sound when the conditions necessary for triggering it are met. Such alarms may also cause the vehicle's headlights to flash, may notify the car's owner of the incident via a paging system, and may interrupt one or more electrical circuits necessary for the car to start. Although inexpensive to acquire and install, the effectiveness of such devices in deterring vehicle burglary or theft when their only effect is to emit sound appears to be negligible.

Vehicle insurance is insurance for cars, trucks, motorcycles, and other road vehicles. Its primary use is to provide financial protection against physical damage or bodily injury resulting from traffic collisions and against liability that could also arise from incidents in a vehicle. Vehicle insurance may additionally offer financial protection against theft of the vehicle, and against damage to the vehicle sustained from events other than traffic collisions, such as keying, weather or natural disasters, and damage sustained by colliding with stationary objects. The specific terms of vehicle insurance vary with legal regulations in each region.

Parking enforcement officer

A parking enforcement officer (PEO), traffic warden, parking inspector/parking officer, or civil enforcement officer is a member of a traffic control department or agency who issues tickets for parking violations. The term parking attendant is sometimes considered a synonym but sometimes used to refer to the different profession of parking lot attendant.

Tow truck Truck used to move disabled, improperly parked, impounded, or otherwise indisposed motor vehicles

A tow truck is a truck used to move disabled, improperly parked, impounded, or otherwise indisposed motor vehicles. This may involve recovering a vehicle damaged in an accident, returning one to a drivable surface in a mishap or inclement weather, or towing or transporting one via flatbed to a repair shop or other location.

A civil penalty or civil fine is a financial penalty imposed by a government agency as restitution for wrongdoing. The wrongdoing is typically defined by a codification of legislation, regulations, and decrees. The civil fine is not considered to be a criminal punishment, because it is primarily sought in order to compensate the state for harm done to it, rather than to punish the wrongful conduct. As such, a civil penalty, in itself, will not carry jail time or other legal penalties. For example, if a person were to dump toxic waste in a state park, the state would have the same right to seek to recover the cost of cleaning up the mess as would a private landowner, and to bring the complaint to a court of law, if necessary.

A hoon, in Australia and New Zealand, is a person who deliberately drives a vehicle in a reckless or dangerous manner, generally in order to provoke a reaction from onlookers.

Fixed penalty notices (FPNs) were introduced in Britain in the 1950s to deal with minor parking offences. Originally used by police and traffic wardens, their use has extended to other public officials and authorities, as has the range of offences for which they can be used.

Decriminalised parking enforcement

Decriminalised parking enforcement (DPE) is the name given in the United Kingdom to the civil enforcement of car parking regulations, carried out by civil enforcement officers, operating on behalf of a local authority. The Road Traffic Act 1991 provided for the decriminalisation of parking-related contraventions committed within controlled parking zones (CPZ) administered by local councils across the UK. The CPZs under the control of the local councils are also referred to as yellow routes and they can be easily identified with yellow lines marked on the roads with relevant time plates. Councils employ parking attendants to enforce their CPZs directly.

Parking violation

A parking violation is the act of parking a motor vehicle in a restricted place or for parking in an unauthorized manner. It is against the law virtually everywhere to park a vehicle in the middle of a highway or road; parking on one or both sides of a road, however, is commonly permitted. However, restrictions apply to such parking, and may result in an offense being committed. Such offenses are usually cited by a police officer or other government official in the form of a traffic ticket.


An immobiliser or immobilizer is an electronic security device fitted to a motor vehicle that prevents the engine from running unless the correct key is present. This prevents the vehicle from being "hot wired" after entry has been achieved and thus reduces motor vehicle theft. Research shows that the uniform application of immobilisers reduced the rate of car theft by 40%.


Towing is coupling two or more objects together so that they may be pulled by a designated power source or sources. The towing source may be a motorized land vehicle, vessel, animal, or human, and the load being anything that can be pulled. These may be joined by a chain, rope, bar, hitch, three-point, fifth wheel, coupling, drawbar, integrated platform, or other means of keeping the objects together while in motion.

Vehicle impoundment is the legal process of placing a vehicle into an impoundment lot or tow yard, which is a holding place for cars until they are placed back in the control of the owner, recycled for their metal, stripped of their parts at a wrecking yard or auctioned off for the benefit of the impounding agency. The impounding agency can be a police department while all terms are negotiated between politicians and towing companies.

<i>Parking Wars</i>

Parking Wars is a reality television series that aired on the A&E television network. The program followed traffic enforcement employees as they ticket, "boot,", tow, and release cars back to their owners, as part of their parking enforcement duties.

A civil enforcement officer is a person employed to enforce parking, traffic and other restrictions and laws.

The British Parking Association (BPA), is a British-based trade association that represents the views and interests of its membership drawn principally from the parking and traffic management fields. More fully described as the British Parking Association Limited the association is a company limited by guarantee and non-profit organisation founded in 1968, although the limited company was not registered until 1970.

Protection of Freedoms Act 2012 United Kingdom legislation

The Protection of Freedoms Act 2012 is an Act of the Parliament of the United Kingdom. As the Protection of Freedoms Bill, it was introduced in February 2011, by the Home Secretary, Theresa May. The bill was sponsored by the Home Office. On Tuesday, 1 May 2012 the Protection of Freedoms Bill completed its passage through Parliament and received royal assent.

<i>Arthur v Anker</i>

Arthur & Another v Anker & Another is an English legal case that set new case law in respect of the use of wheel clamps to immobilise vehicles on private land and is regarded as the leading legal authority on the subject. The case established a legal precedent in relation to the use of wheel clamps and the concept of consent but some years later this was expanded upon in the case of Vine v London Borough of Waltham Forest.

Abandoned vehicle

Abandoned vehicles are decrepit cars that have become useless in other ways, which are abandoned and illegally dumped in the environment. Abandoned vehicles will be tagged with an official notice when found or reported. Criteria for "abandonment" may differ, and a minimum duration of abandonment in the order of a few days to weeks is required. When reporting such a vehicle, the required data will usually comprise the exact location, the make, colour and type, and - if available and readable - possibly the VIN and the licence plate. Costs for removal will as a rule be taken by public councils.


  1. 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.
  2. "Denver boot". Merriam-Webster Dictionary. Archived from the original on 21 August 2011. Retrieved 21 March 2011.
  3. 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. origin of Denver Boot.
  4. Heitmann, John A.; Morale, Rebecca H. (2014). Stealing Cars: Technology and Society from the Model T to the Gran Torino. Johns Hopkins University Press. p. 9. ISBN   9781421412979 . Retrieved 25 November 2015.
  5. "Miller-Chapman wheel locks". Model T Ford Forum. 2009. Retrieved 25 November 2015.
  6. "Automobile Anti-Theft Deterrents, Criminal Countermeasures, and Technological Change, 1900-1970 at the Society of Automotive Historians biennial conference". Automobile and American Life. April 2014. Retrieved 25 November 2015.
  7. Marugg, F.P. (29 July 1958). "Wheel Clamp US patent number 2,844,954" (PDF). Retrieved 1 February 2011.
  8. Pohlen, Jerome (2002). Oddball Colorado: A Guide to Some Really Strange Places . Chicago Review Press. p.  10. ISBN   9781556524608 . Retrieved 1 October 2019. Dan Stills immobilizer.
  9. 1634 to 1699: Harris, P. (1996). "Inflation and Deflation in Early America, 1634–1860: Patterns of Change in the British American Economy". Social Science History . 20 (4): 469–505. JSTOR   1171338. 1700-1799: McCusker, J. J. (1992). How much is that in real money?: a historical price index for use as a deflator of money values in the economy of the United States (PDF). American Antiquarian Society. 1800–present: Federal Reserve Bank of Minneapolis. "Consumer Price Index (estimate) 1800–" . Retrieved 1 January 2020.
  10. "Denver Boot Interview". Expo1000.com. Retrieved 13 August 2010.
  11. 1 2 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
  12. "UK Patent Application GB2251416 (A)". Espacenet. Retrieved 1 October 2019.
  13. "'Superhero' takes on clampers". BBC. 16 September 2003. Retrieved 11 July 2014.
  14. "Clamper: public enemy no 1". 3 News NZ. 7 March 2013. Archived from the original on 19 April 2013. Retrieved 7 March 2013.
  15. Batten, Yvette (15 December 2012). "Attempt to remove wheel clamps fails". Stuff.co.nz. Retrieved 11 July 2014.
  16. "Carmichael v. Black, High Court of Justiciary HCJ Appeal, The Lord Justice-General(Hope), Lords Allanbridge and Cowie". Scottish Court Service. Retrieved 11 July 2014.
  17. "Railway Byelaws" (PDF). Department for Transport, GOV.UK. Archived from the original (PDF) on 16 August 2014. Retrieved 11 July 2014.
  18. "Appealing a parking ticket".
  19. "Nathaniel Cars :: What Are Parking Charge Notices & 2019 New Law on Private Parking Fees". www.nathanielcars.co.uk.
  20. "Parking Enforcement Signs | Parking Problems | Parking Solution | No Parking | Fine | PCN". www.parkingenforcement.online.
  21. Heckman, Candace (22 January 2005). "Company ordered to stop using wheel clamp to immobilize cars". Seattle Post-Intelligencer.
  22. Lewis, Peter (8 April 2005). "Lawmakers give solid boot to vehicle-clamping practice". The Seattle Times.
  23. "McDonald's Restaurant Owner and Parking Company Each Charged With Illegally "Booting" Vehicles in Parking Lot" (PDF) (Press release). From the office of the city attorney Carmen A. Trutanich. 14 February 2013. Archived from the original (PDF) on 14 July 2014. Retrieved 9 April 2013.
  24. "Los Angeles Restaurant And Parking Company Charged For Illegally "Booting" Cars". California Business Law Report. 4 March 2013. Archived from the original on 25 August 2015. Retrieved 9 April 2013.
  25. 1 2 3 4 5 "Parking fines and vehicle clamping". Citizens Information. Ireland: Citizens Information Board. 20 April 2016. Retrieved 6 April 2017.
  26. 1 2 "§101B: Immobilisation, removal etc. of unlawfully parked vehicles" (PDF). Road Traffic Act 1961. Revised statutes. Ireland: Law Reform Commission. 16 April 2013. pp. 206–208. Retrieved 6 April 2017.
  27. 1 2 Joint Committee on the Environment, Transport, Culture and the Gaeltacht (31 January 2012). "Regulation of Vehicle Clamping Industry: Discussion". Debates. Oireachtas. Retrieved 6 April 2017.CS1 maint: multiple names: authors list (link)
  28. 1 2 "Part VI; Regulation of Traffic" (PDF). Road Traffic Act 1994. Revised statutes. Ireland: Law Reform Commission. 30 August 2016. pp. 28–51. Retrieved 6 April 2017.
  29. 1 2 "Vehicle Clamping Act 2015" . Retrieved 6 April 2017.; "Vehicle Clamping Bill 2014 [Seanad]". Bills. Oireachtas. Retrieved 6 April 2017.
  30. 1 2 3 "Vehicle Clamping Bill 2014 [Seanad]: Second Stage". Dáil debates. KildareStreet.com. 22 January 2015. Retrieved 6 April 2017.