The Chrysler side of DaimlerChrysler AG announced on Oct. 25 it will offer a hands-free cellular phone system in its vehicles that wirelessly connects to an owner's own phone, allowing drivers to make calls with voice commands. Unlike other automakers' telematics services, Chrysler will not charge any subscription fees for its system. Instead, consumers will pay for the hardware as an option beginning next spring, with no other fees beyond normal cell phone charges, according to Chrysler. According to Chrysler executives, the system is better for consumers, who can use the system with any phone company and do not have to pay for services and cell phone hardware they do not use. With New York already putting restrictions on making hand-held calls while driving, and more than 40 other states considering similar legislation, Chrysler becomes the last of the major domestic automakers to announce a hands-free calling system. General Motors Corp., whose satellite-based OnStar communications system was a U.S. first when it debuted in 1996, recently rolled out its OnStar-based Personal Calling plan. The service is offered on 36 GM models, along with cars by GM-owned Saab. Ford Motor Co. announced in July it would offer a dealer-installed, hands-free phone system by Cellport Systems Inc. in most 2002 Ford and Lincoln Mercury models by mid-2002. Chrysler officials promoted its development as a straightforward solution to the most pressing concern of customers: how to safely place calls while driving. "Chrysler Group's hands-free system is an affordable, easy-to-use solution and enables each individual customer to have just one communication device with one telephone number," said Wolfgang Bernhard, Chrysler Group chief operating officer. "It's technology that is in touch with the customer. Simply put, Chrysler Group's strategy places an emphasis on creating a safe driving environment, while enabling customers to choose the services they want. It's all about safety, freedom and flexibility." According to Bernhard, consumers will be able to experience hands-free calling using voice recognition commands -- just by bringing a mobile telephone into the vehicle environment. The communication device will be controlled and operated by a simplified hardware set-up, consisting of a receiver module located behind the dashboard, an embedded microphone in the rearview mirror and a customer's mobile telephone. Upon entering the vehicle, the mobile phone connects to the vehicle's electrical architecture using Bluetooth technology. Once the system is engaged, the phone audio is fed through the vehicle's existing speaker system, overriding the radio. In an effort to ensure safe driving while using the hands-free system, the Chrysler Group's offering requires only the push of a button to make or complete a telephone call. All other functions are voice activated. Calls are placed either by voice, digit-specific dialing or by accessing the system's audio address book, which can be customized by the user. In addition to the basic in-vehicle voice recognition, the Chrysler Group solution will also offer optional information services via an AT&T Wireless carrier subscription.