Motor insurance has been around for almost as long as there have been motor vehicles. The insurance industry is well established, and has always been happy to offer policies on almost anything its customers can dream up, from standards like home insurance and life insurance to cover in the event of an alien abduction or werewolf attack.
Early car insurance policies, dating from the late nineteenth century, were based on existing policies covering horse drawn vehicles. The first car insurance policy to be sold in the UK was issued in 1896.
Cars at this time tended to be rather peculiar and temperamental beasts, often powered by steam or electricity, and more likely to blow up than to inflict damage on a third party. Expensive to purchase and luxuriously crafted, this new mode of transport was largely the province of the rich and eccentric.
Advances in vehicle and mechanical technology during the First World War, mass production assembly line techniques like those pioneered by Henry Ford in the USA, and hire purchase schemes meant that vehicles became more affordable during the interwar period. The motor trade boomed, and with it both car ownership and instances of accident and theft.
The Road Traffic Act of 1930, along with abolishing the speed limit set in 1903 and introducing the offence of dangerous driving, made it illegal to drive on public roads without third party insurance. These early policies had to cover damages to a third party, as well as hospital treatment up to the value of £25.
Just like today, insured drivers required an insurance certificate, which they had to present when applying for a driving licence, and take to a police station when requested to by a police officer.
The Motor Insurers’ Bureau was set up in 1946 as a result of an agreement between the motor insurance industry and the UK government, to provide compensation to victims of accidents involving uninsured drivers.
Further Road Traffic Acts have added to the rules and regulations applied to vehicle insurance in the UK, always with the aim of protecting drivers and accident victims, and reducing the number of uninsured vehicles on the roads. There are also reciprocal agreements within the European Union, to make sure the system works for those driving abroad.
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Gradually, the field of motor insurance has become standardised, with three main types of cover offered. Third party insurance is generally the cheapest type, and the compulsory minimum cover. You are protected from claims against you, but not from damage to your own vehicle. Third party, fire and theft insurance, the policy most commonly taken out, insures your vehicle against fire and theft, but no other kind of damage. Only fully comprehensive insurance covers accidents that are your fault, that happen without the involvement of another vehicle, or where the other driver is uninsured.
Today’s drivers can choose the policy that best fits their needs, from a huge range of insurance companies and brokers. There are policies designed for new and used cars, classic vehicles, and cars using trade plates, multi car policies and family policies.
With the advent of the internet making it easier to shop around for the best deals, and take out a policy in the time it takes to send an email, there’s no excuse not to get covered.