Picketing and shutdowns at diesel-fuel distribution centers, a slowdown in deliveries of perishable commodities, interstate traffic jams and isolated cases of violence have resulted from truckers' nationwide protests over fuel prices and availability.
"It's very serious," said Doug Baldwin, a spokesman for the Interstate Commerce Commission. "The truckers have the leverage to cause a considerable amount of harm on the highways and on commerce."
With such emotions stirred, independent drivers and trucking organizations are using the fuel issue to raise other points of contention:
In addition to fuel availability, diesel fuel prices have risen 30 to 35 percent since January to an average of 90 cents a gallon.
Carriers also are protesting weight and length limitations in 10 states where federal limits are not recognized.
Independent drivers who are not regulated federally continue to call for a 65-mile-per-hour speed limit, saying the lower speed cuts down on productivity.
Another point raised by Mike Parkhurst, representing 75,000 members of the Independent Truckers Association, is a need for "grandson rights," regulations that would free the independents to negotiate their own loads and eliminate the need for kickbacks by independent drivers to trucking companies.
The productivity issue is a key argument made in terms of both time and miles per gallon. While regulated truck drivers such as those represented by the Teamsters are paid according distance, independent drivers depend on a time factor.
Further, some observers say that truckers would realize greater fuel efficiency at higher speeds.
Many truckers see the weight and length limitations as a bigger issue than fuel.
Although most states allow for an 80,000-pound load and 60-foot length maximum, some states that essentially border the Mississippi River and are referred to as the "Iron Curtain" have lower limits that cause carriers to load under capacity.
"That's a bigger bone of contention now than the fuel problem," Baldwin said.
From all the ruckus, the nucleus of the protests have been raised by the independent drivers.
Of an estimated 630,000 truck drivers nationwide, about 130,000 are independent drivers and of those, an estimated 60,000 are catagorized as "exempt carriers," drivers who carry perishable items such as produce and agricultural products and are exempt from ICC regulations.
Although the intensity of the truckers' protest is increasing, prompting a state of emergency in Minnesota and costing at least two lives this month, the ICC eased the situation somewhat last Friday by granting a 6 percent surcharge on gross shipping costs.
The move translates into recouping the 35 percent cost increase for diesel fuel since January.
Parkhurst called the surcharge "just a bandage when we're hemorrhaging."
Meanwhile, the American Trucking Associations Inc. sent a telegram to President Carter yesterday urging protection on the highways and at fuel distribution centers.
The association requested relief on state weight limits and a moratorium on applications for additional trucking authority.
ATA President Bennett C. Whitlock Jr., who said that 60 per cent of its regluated drivers are on the road, called the present situation "a genuine crisis."
Truckers around the country continued to protest with incidents of violence and an hour-long traffic jam on Interstate 81 in Virginia. State police reported gunshots fired into radiators of trucks on I-81 and a truck wind-shield broken by debris hurled from an overpass.
Despite the scattered incidents, supermarket chains in the Washington area report no supply problems yet.
"We're experiencing a little delay in the trucks coming in," said Ernie Moore, a spokesman for a Safeway store. "Some didn't arrive yesterday morning, but they were all in by the afternoon."