THE graphic collection of 1960s car crash photographs that we published in October transported us back to an era of terrible carnage on our roads.

The Sixties were a perfect motoring storm: new motorways, no speed limits, no seatbelts, no central barriers, no restrictions on drivers’ hours and no restrictions on alcohol. Then there were faster cars which were still primitively constructed, increasingly heavy lorries, a new breed of travelling salesmen and no roadside medical help whatsoever.

The heaviest peacetime death toll on Britain’s roads was in 1966, when 7,985 were killed – a third of whom died on their journey from the scene to hospital.

Such carnage concentrated minds. In December 1965, a 70mph maximum was trialled and became permanent in 1968 after a 20 per cent reduction in speed-related accidents; in January 1966, an alcohol restriction was introduced with the roadside breathalyser arriving in 1967.

And pioneering work in North Yorkshire and Darlington changed, even revolutionised, the medical approach.

At the start of the decade, the emergency services sent to an accident had no rescue equipment and no medical training. The North Riding fire brigade, which covered one of the country’s largest counties, didn’t want this to change – it argued that as many of the victims were non-Yorkshire people who were just passing through, it shouldn’t spend local money on assisting them.

In Catterick Village, a GP, Dr Kenneth Easton who had the 1959 A1 bypass running behind his house, became increasingly exasperated at arriving at the scene of crash and finding no protocol, and no equipment, for treating a casualty.

He started the Accident After Care Scheme, which brought GPs, the fire brigade and the ambulance service together. Ambulances at that time were controlled by the fire service and driven by people with no medical knowledge.

It was at one of these meetings in Darlington that Dr Easton accidentally discovered that ambulances regularly carried Entonox – gas and air – for delivery to community midwives which, in the absence of anything else, could be used by a GP at the scene as a painkiller.

In 1966, Darlington fire brigade – which had the new Darlington bypass running through its area –bought an “air van” – a vehicle with compressed air facilities on board which could drive cutting equipment and so, for the first time, quickly free those entrapped in the wreckage. North Yorkshire quickly followed.

Dr Easton’s scheme developed so that 31 volunteer GPs went on a rota to be called out in the advent of a serious accident. The National Provincial bank in Richmond collected donations from the public to provide them with equipment.

On December 30, 1967, the Darlington & Stockton Times reported: “The country’s first on-the-spot accident care scheme swung into action in the North Riding early on Wednesday morning, after a triple crash near Leases Bridge on the Great North Road. The pioneer of the scheme, Dr Kenneth Easton, of Catterick, was the doctor on the scene in minutes, to direct the use of new medical appliances.”

The first to benefit was Pte Robert Williams, 22, who sustained chest and rib injuries in the accident. Dr Easton on the spot strapped him into a homemade stretcher with a cervical neck collar, preventing him from being damaged further on the journey to hospital – it was about 25 years before it became standard practice for fire and rescue crews to carry such apparatus.

The Darlington brigade started to equip a rescue Landrover with such equipment and inflatable splints and a doctor’s sealed surgical box ready for use when the GP arrived.

In the first year, the scheme attended 173 accidents, in which 16 people died instantly and 175 suffered serious injuries – but none of them died on their way to hospital.

In 1971, Darlington bought a Dennis Dial Holme Road Accident Vehicle, one of only three in the country, which carried all the latest rescue, cutting and medical gear. Darlington also started painting its helmets yellow (previously officers wore white helmets and men wore black) so they would be more visible on a road – this didn’t become national policy until 1976.

Further developments saw health authorities take control of ambulances in 1974 and Dr Easton’s scheme grew into the national British Association for Immediate Care (Basics). Things did improve slowly after the carnage of the 1960s, and last year there were 1,770 deaths on British roads – down 10 on the previous year.

With many thanks to fire historian Brett Clayton for his help with this article. Dr Easton, who in 1945 had been one of the first doctors to enter the Belsen concentration camp, died in 2001, aged 75.