Henry Wells, from Springfield, Mass., was never formally introduced to New Yorker Evelyn Thomas, but their meeting on May 30, 1896, marked the exact moment the four-wheeled future collided with the two-wheeled past, literally. Thomas, on her Columbia bicycle, and Wells, in his brand-new Duryea Motor Wagon crashed during an early road race through the city. When the dust settled, Thomas, with a broken leg, was sprawled in the street next to her badly bent Columbia, while Wells sat upon his Duryea completely unscratched. Score one for burgeoning technology.

Entering the scene were several of New York's finest to scratch their heads and wonder what to do about this unprecedented turn of events. This accident was between one of those newfangled horseless things and a bicycle. What were they supposed to do? In the end, the injured Miss Thomas was taken to the hospital and Mr. Wells was dumped into the clink (both via horse, ironically). Two historic firsts were entered in the record books. Miss Thomas was the first person to be hospitalized due to a traffic accident, and Mr. Wells became the first person arrested for a traffic accident. Unfortunately, history leaves us no word as to what happened to the now priceless Duryea, and modern mentalities are left to wonder what happened to Wells' insurance rates.

The Insurance Of Yesteryear
The infancy of modern insurance, in all its countless forms, got its start nearly 1000 years ago, as the two main concerns of economic growth were fire and accidents at sea. To fight the effects of pirates, poor navigation and storms, in 1063, merchants in the trading port of Amalfi introduced what became known as the Amalfi Sea Code. Under the Code, any merchant whose ship was lost was reimbursed from a pool of money to which all members contributed.

In England, a year after the Great Fire in 1666, Dr. Nicholas Barbon, a local dentist operating under a charter granted by Charles II, opened an office to transact fire insurance in London. More accurate predictions of losses came from his office, and with these, the beginnings of precise insurance rates began to be based on actuarial tables of possibilities and predicted events.

By 1688, Edward Lloyd's famous coffee shop on Tower Street became the informal site of a thriving marine insurance center where merchants, bankers, seafarers and underwriters came together to do business. This was the basis of the insurance business as we know it. Today, of course, there are hundreds of companies offering thousands of policies to millions of people, and auto insurance specifically is the most used type of personal insurance in the world.

One Day On The Road
Consider this all-too-common scenario: You're driving your brand-new M3 home from the dealer and it collides with a Mack truck in the middle of an intersection. You bounce onto the sidewalk, over someone's front lawn and into their living room. It's your fault; you were watching the chase scene from Bullitt on your dash-mounted DVD and weren't watching the road. Classic mistake. Nobody's too seriously hurt, but the truck driver's got a sore neck and the guy in the living room will need to start looking for a new coffee table... and wall. As you clamber out of your now-shortened BMW with a not-so-bright look on your face, a bolt of lightning arcs out of the sky, hits your M3 and it bursts into flames.

It has been indeed quite the odd day.

Undaunted by the lightning or perhaps still fazed from the collision, you exchange insurance information with both parties (more than likely the fire department will show up to mop up what's left of the Bimmer) and somewhere far away, little pea-eyed office cubicle workers scurry into action. The juggernaut begins to roll. A claim is filed, an investigation has begun, and someone will have to write a check (three of them actually). The whole multitrillion-dollar process grinds into gear just to take care of little old you and your spot of bad luck. But how?

The Grand Scope Of Conventional Insurance
To cut through the cobwebs, conventional car insurance can be broken down into three basic areas of coverage: liability, collision and comprehensive. Under liability, bodily injury liability insures you against the claims of other people who are injured in an accident you caused. The six sessions of chiropractics for the truck driver is on your dime, along with whatever mental anguish the guy in the house has for having to dodge the hood of your car. In addition to the trucker's medical expenses, he could also claim lost wages, mental pain and suffering and a host of other not-so-obvious maladies for which Larry H. Parker can get him $2.2 million. Also under liability, property damage insurance pays for any damage you cause to the property of others, like the shredded fiberglass fender of the big rig and the new wall and coffee table (and the cat) for the guy in the house. It could also include damage to other property, such as city-owned sidewalks, signs-anything that you FUBARed, basically.

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