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A wheel clamp (American English: Denver boot or wheel boot) is a device that is designed to prevent vehicles from moving. In its most common form, it consists of a clamp which surrounds a vehicle wheel and is designed to prevent removal of both itself and the wheel. It is often used for security purposes, such as preventing a trailer or caravan from being towed away by a thief, or to stop one's own car from being driven away by a thief.It is also used 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. In the United Statesmarker, such a device became known as a "Denver boot" after the city of Denvermarker, Coloradomarker, was the first in the country to employ them, mostly to force the payment of outstanding parking tickets.

Invention

The Denver boot, originally known as the auto immobilizer, 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 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 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 WWII-created rubber shortage. 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 shoe worn by convicts. The Denver police first used the boot on January 5, 1955 and collected over $18,000 in its first month of use. Although 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 and even created a Jumbo version for farm equipment and larger vehicles. The Smithsonian Institutionmarker now has a copy of Marugg's boot on display in Washington, D.C.

Controversy

Wheel-clamping is notoriously unpopular with illegal parkers in the same way that traffic wardens are. However, whereas a traffic warden or police officer has jurisdiction only 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 is now a self-styled superhero called Angle-Grinder Man, offering to remove clamps for free with his angle grinder. This says nothing of any subsequent unlawful removal fees his practice may have resulted in.

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. Presently, there is a campaign to stop car booting in private parking lots entitled "Fight The Boot," which is based out of New Mexico.

Legal issues

In Scotlandmarker, 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 and theft.

In England and Wales, wheel-clampers operating on private land must be individually licensed by the Security Industry Authority. Operating in such circumstances without a valid license, or in breach of its conditions (which include displaying ID at all times), is a criminal offence under the Private Security Industry Act, 2001.

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

In Popular Culture

- In the animated film Cars, Denver boots are used in a fashion similar to handcuffs, leaving the booted vehicle to hobble along instead of driving normally.

- In the TV series Seinfeld, Cosmo Kramer has a friend who carries his own, presumably stolen, boot in the trunk of his car and places it on the wheel whenever he parks, in order to fool parking enforcement officers into thinking his car has already been booted; the movie Coyote Ugly has a character with a similar premise.

- In The Simpsons episode The City of New York vs. Homer Simpson, protagonist Homer Simpson's car is taken by town drunk Barney Gumble to New York Citymarker, where it is illegally parked at the World Trade Centermarker and eventually equipped with a boot. After waiting most of the day for the parking inspector to show up (who arrives when Homer is in the washroom), he drives with the boot on his wheel, damaging both his car and the road. He finally removes the boot with a jackhammer, further damaging the car.

- The reality television show Parking Wars heavily features the act of booting vehicles. In one episode of Operation Repo, a car was found to have a boot on it, resulting in the repo team being unable to perform the repossession.

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