Chairman Dan O'Neal of the Interstate Commerce Commission yesterday fired the opening round in a battle to substantially deregulate the trucking industry. The reaction was predictable.

"We're seriously thinking of suing the ICC," said a trucking industry source, "for trying to deregulate without benefit of law." The trucking industry has long opposed deregulation of the economic aspects of the industry.

O'Neal presented a working paper to the ICC yesterday, soliciting discussion on his plan to slowly dismantle much of the commission's regulation of the trucking industry.

O'Neal called his proposal "purposely sketchy," but said he was presenting it to the commission to stimulate analysis. Some commission members said they felt they needed more information before they could decide on the merits of the plan.

Among the possible changes in O'Neal's proposal:

Eliminate the present requirement on a trucking route applicant to prove public convenience and necessity before granting new routes to truckers carrying full loads.

Use a fitness test as the only means of evaluating an application for full truckload transportation.

Make competition a factor in public convenience and necessity statements.

Allow certain smaller carriers to expand their operations automatically to a limited extent every year.

Establish certain price flexibility which does not presently exist.

Eliminate antitrust immunity that now exists for specialized service, and further deregulate price setting for general commodity service.

Subject merger and acquisition applications to a competitive impact test.

Make it easier for railroads to acquire motor carriers that compliment rail operations.

At the meetings, O'Neal pointed out that he has already taken some steps toward deregulation. "What I'm looking for is an impression from the members as to what sort of shape motor regulation should take," he said.

Both the Carter administration and the Antitrust subcommittee of the Senate Judiciary Committee, under the direction of Sen. Edward Kennedy (D-Mass.) have been working on legislation that would mandate motor carrier deregulation. Such efforts had been considered secondary to the airline deregulation which was approved last month by Congress.

O'Neal said certain types of regulation - like consumer protection over the household goods moving industry - would be continued under his plan, but added that there were considerable areas fo regulation ripe for reform.

"We have reached the point now," he said, "where we need to step back from the trees and review the shape of the forest. It's time for this agency to shift its exmaination of regulation to the larger picture, to nothing less than the philosophy of motor carrier regulation."

The trucking industry is not happy with O'Neal's plans, and according to industry sources the possibility of a federal suit was raised at an industry convention in New York last week.

Unlike the trucking industry, however, the railroad industry is gearing up to head in the opposite direction and request substantial deregulation from the ICC shortly.