Punishment passes: can they be stopped?

I have been putting off writing this post because I feel confronted by the subject matter. Car addiction has reduced Australians to voting for politicians who promise cheap petrol even if that means killing Iraqis. We continue to remove pedestrian crossings to help traffic flows, even if that means killing our very own children walking to school. Lesser crimes are committed for heroin.

Another crime is the “punishment pass”.

A month ago I wrote about the suspended sentence given to Timothy Wayne Yole after he killed Lewis Hendey. It happened near where I live, so affected me more than similar killings. Yole was driving. Hendey was cycling. (It is never the other way around). Fellow cyclists who know the stretch of road where it happened remain totally baffled as to how a driver could have hit a cyclist when visibility was clear, there were no other cars complicating his task, and he wasn’t drunk or using his phone.

Someone left a comment under my post that still turns over in my mind. He said he suspects Yole deliberately set out to pass Hendey very close and at speed, like a farmer shooting a bullet over somebodies head to warn them off of his farm. I had never heard the term “punishment pass” but I knew right away what it meant. I’ve had it done to me at least twice that I can be sure of. The driver deliberately misses you by mere inches, usually revving their engine. It is incredibly dangeous. There is a real chance the cyclist will look around to see the source of the revving and in so doing swerve a few inches onto a bonnet. There is an even greater chance the driver will miscalculate the width of their car. Understanding that punishment passes are a very real thing helps me appreciate why many regular road cyclists are such passionate advocates for laws around minimum passing distances.

It’s just as well I’m not a judge. I would have taken Yole’s address as a motive: you know, one of those dormitory suburbs where house prices would double if it wasn’t for those bloody cyclists adding 10 seconds to peoples’ commutes. Noting Yole’s string of related offences I also would have called for a polygraph test, even if evidence could not be accepted. But he has been found innocent of any great crime and let to go free, leaving all of us feeling as helpless as ever.

We’re not helpless at all. We can rally together and stop the punishment pass. Here’s how.

First, share this post, or rephrase the argument in your own way. Second, talk about punishment passes with people you ride with. Because these close swipes tend to be inflicted on cyclists riding in pairs, sooner or later a driver will do this to someone among us who has the means to pursue the matter in every court in the same way they would pursue a farmer who fired a rifle over their head. Not only that, but the rider on the curb side will be prepared to go to court as a witness.

Remember, if you set the precedent, you get to have it named after you!


  1. Nick zintilis says:

    Here in Holland the law was changed a few years ago. It more or less states that the cyclist has right of way and is in the Right whatever the situation. This rather bland law has slowed cars down all right! Nick

    • Steven says:

      In Australia they’re taking away level crossings. I doubt they’ll give us strict liability laws. We’re not left with many options here in the killing fields I’m afraid.

    • James says:

      In Australia the motorists make so many excuses for killing and maiming others. Even if a collision results in their prosecution, the jurors are all usually drivers, and sympathise and side with the accused. It is often determined to be partially the cyclists fault, because we could have got off the road if we felt unsafe.

      Really, Australian road use culture, for a “civilised” country, is far from civil.

    • Steven says:

      There would be no jury in the case of civil action against a “warning shot over your head”. There would just be the judge. At the risk of seeming to be vexatious, you could call for another judge if the one you appear before seems potentially biased. And if you lose, you can take the case higher and higher, until you hit the high court. Obviously I’m speaking to a reader with lots of money who is prepared to invest in making the country safer for all.

    • James says:

      Nice of you to volunteer, Steven 😉

  2. Pete says:

    “I’ve had it done to me at least twice that I can be sure of. The driver deliberately misses you by mere inches, usually revving their engine. It is incredibly dangeous.”
    I have had this done to me often enough. WHen it occurs on a traffic-free stretch of road, with the added long blaring horn-blast beforehand, I’m pretty sure it is a punishment pass. A charge of common assault should stick, but in my experience the coppers laugh it off.

  3. Pete says:

    BTW, one such pass I had a mate riding behind who could see the margin closely. A report to police was made, statements taken, the copper (who was open to our case) passed it all on to the CPS. We heard no more.

    • Steven says:

      You need to make an appointment with the chamber magistrate at your local court. Don’t wait for others to take the matter up on your behalf.

  4. steven says:

    I’ve had it done to me after a road rage incident. I had filmed the whole incident and gave the footage to police. They charged the motorist with a driving offence after deciding against an assault charge (inconclusive footage of him spitting in my face).

  5. Pete says:

    Chamber magistrate….. interesting concept.

    I’d expect that would require some big dollars to pursue ?? Who is going to do the rego search, pay the offender a visit, make out the statements of witnesses?

  6. […] Space rails against the punishment pass, something most of us have experienced, as self-appointed driveway vigilantes try to teach us a […]

  7. Luis G says:


    The 50 level crossing Victorian Labor is committing to remove in Melbourne are rail crossings, not pedestrian crossings.



    • Steven says:

      No, I insist my blog is 100% factual and fully checked by my staff 😉

    • Luis G says:

      They might as well have plans to make life more miserable for pedestrians and cyclists for all I know.

      I just moved to Melbourne from Hobart and so far I can’t say I find the cycling infrastructure a lot better. As much as planners from the Cities of Melbourne and Yarra like to see themselves as the Australian Jan Gehls, the active transport infrastructure is quite poor.

      Heaps of wide roads with lots of parking. And you have to wait for like 20 mins at intersections until the little green man says it’s ok to cross.

      Don’t believe the hype.

      I still quite enjoy the city though.

    • Steven says:

      I don’t believe Gehl’s hype, so I’m hardly going to believe any from Melbourne 🙂
      Meanwhile, there are some unsung heroes: Canberra… or how about this rebuilt Newfarm river cycleway up here in Brisbane. The best cycleway over water I have seen anywhere!

  8. Pete says:

    Brisbane’s fancy new Riverside Bike path is the replacement for the Bicentennial Bikeway destroyed by the flood disaster a few years ago. You can see most of it here: http://goo.gl/maps/mJX9F

    It is a comparatively short river bridge/pontoon. Melbourne has a similar length of floating pontoon bike path – must admit I don’t like it that much as the expansion joints on it are very clunky. We also have a very cool bridge that links our Norhbank to the Docklands path, swooping under the Charles Grimes Bridge.

    But there is much more to the growth of cycling in Melbourne than a few fancy shared trails. The on-road changes, mostly driven by local councils who are hamstrung by Vicroads traffic engineers” car-focus, have been the main spur to the 10%+ bicycle share of commuting journeys from the northern suburbs. Few suburbs anywhere in Australia have this sort of bicycle use for transport.

  9. […] danger factor. In February I had two near misses with poorly driven cars, including one nasty ‘punishment pass’ that forced me off the […]

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