SOUTH JERSEY DRIVING SCHOOL MERITS MBA SPOTLIGHT AWARD
Moorestown Business Association initiated its Spotlight Award Program to applaud member businesses who enhance the township and contribute to the community. In recognizing South Jersey Driving School, the MBA is acknowledging an enterprise for which a vital community service is the nature of the business itself. For 35 years, South Jersey Driving School has provided teens and others with driving skills, and in so doing is making our streets safer for everyone. When you see the school’s signature black and yellow cars on the road, they are being used to teach knowledge to last a lifetime and to protect lives.
Creating a business that fills such an important niche has been quite a road trip. In 1983 Tony Caracci was working in a sales position, but was looking for a new career direction. The former physical education teacher, whose responsibilities had included driver’s education, missed teaching young people. When he took a second job as an instructor at a driving school, he realized it was his calling and decided to open a school of his own. Tony sold his personal car and used the proceeds to buy his first driver education car: a Ford Escort.
Mary Beth managed public relations for area hospitals, but she was excited about his new venture and assisted him part time as the business developed. They married a few years later, and in 1996 Mary Beth began to work with Tony full time to accommodate the expansion of South Jersey Driving School. It was the perfect blend of talents, with Mary Beth using her PR skills to market the business and manage client relations and Tony directing the educational component. “Together we made it possible to be where we are today,” Mary Beth explains.
In 2002, after operating for 14 years out of an office in Marlton, the Caraccis moved the business to Moorestown to take advantage of a more strategic location and also to be closer to home while raising their three daughters. Soon afterward Barb Krier was hired to manage the office, and the school now has 12 employees and a fleet of six vehicles. Mary Beth estimates that they have instructed over 100,000 students since 1983. It is particularly satisfying for the Caraccis that they are now seeing the second generation of students—young drivers whose parents learned to drive at South Jersey Driving School.
Perhaps one reason people who developed their road skills at South Jersey Driving are now sending their children to learn with the Caraccis is because part of the school’s process is to get to know the students and their families. “One thing that sets us apart from other driving schools is the importance we place on the initial meeting with the student and family members,” notes Mary Beth. Prospective students are made to feel welcome while she stresses the importance of the Graduated License laws and how these laws affect the people they care about.
After the initial meeting and written and eye tests are completed, students are scheduled for a minimum of six hours (the state requirement) of behind-the-wheel training, although many families opt for more. South Jersey Driving provides “door-to-door” service for most of the area it covers, which includes Burlington County, parts of Camden County, and potentially the Jersey shore. Instructors arrive at students’ homes or schools to pick them up for lessons and then drop them back off when they are done, making it easy for busy families. When they are ready, students are accompanied by South Jersey Driving School agents to the DMV so they can take the road test to get their drivers licenses. The school sends about 20 students a week for road tests, and Mary Beth says most pass on their first try. The Caraccis derive a great deal of satisfaction in knowing they have helped place competent and aware new drivers on the road.
The couple is also active in civic engagement, with a history of supporting local youth sports teams and high school Project Graduation. Mary Beth, formerly an MBA board member and active in Burlington County Chamber of Commerce, will be serving as a Moorestown Rotarian as of this year. Tony is a board member of the Driving School Association of America, a national organization promoting driver safety and education all over North America. He is also an active member of the Basketball Club of South Jersey, where he awards an annual scholarship. Tony and Mary Beth stress that the most valuable service they can provide is to start kids off right with good driving skills. “It is so important for them to be prepared and to learn how to avoid distractions and develop safe driving habits from the beginning,” they emphasize. “We love and believe in what we do here.”
Photo: MBA President Steven Pazienza, South Jersey Driving School owners Mary Beth and Tony Caracci, and MBA Vice President Kathleen Hiltner. Photo credit: Tom Sheckels