President Carter formally sent to Congress yesterday legislation jointly sponsored with Sen. Edward M. Kennedy (D-Mass.) that would substantially deregulate the nation's trucking industry.

The measure is designed to produce a more competitive industry with trucking companies freed of the need to seek permission from the Interstate Commerce Commission for what would be independent business decisions in most other industries.

The measure would make it much easier for new trucking companies to enter the business and give existing firms new expansion opportunities, give truckers the flexibility to raise and lower rates within certain limits without government interference and remove the special antitrust exemption that now allows truckers to agree jointly on the freight and moving rates they will all charge.

The measure would remove restrictions limiting the types of commodities that trucking companies may transport and the routes they must follow.

Flanked by Kennedy and a large group of deregulation supporters at a ceremony in the White House yesterday, President Carter said "unnecessary and sometimes absolutely nonsensical" federal regulations had added billions of dollars in higher transportation costs to almost every food item and manufactured product Americans buy.

"Too many trucks are rattling back and forth empty on the road today, burning up precious diesel fuel, because ICC rules prohibit two-way hauling," he complained. "Some trucking companies can deliver all the ingredients necessary to make soup to a factory, but a forbidden from hauling soup away from the factory.

"Restrictions like these are symbols of government regulations gone wild," he said.

Although the measure has support from a broad spectrum of business, farm and consumer groups - including the National Association of Manufacturers, the American Retail Federation and the Food Marketing Institute - it also has the strong opposition of the regulated trucking industry, which has embarked on a million-dollar public relations campaign against it, and the powerful Teamsters Union.

Yesterday, Bennett C. Whitlock Jr., president of the American Trucking Associations, lambasted the administration for bowing to "political pressure" from Kennedy and asserted that deregulation would "create havoc."

"With so many things in the country and government not working, it is difficult to understand why the administration would attack the portion of the system that works," he said.

Administration supporters of trucking deregulation saw it a different way. Alfred E. Kahn, the President's chief adviser on inflation, said the bill was being put forward in the name of the anti-inflation program, in the name of energy conservation, competition, regulatory reform and free enterprise. "Motherhood and apple pie are being taken care of in other legislation," he quipped.

Although Kahn and Transportation Secretary Brock Adams predicted that the measure would pass Congress, the bill faces a stiff fight.

Senate Commerce Committee Chairman Howard W. Cannon (D-Nev.) promised "thorough and fair" consideration of the legislation but admitted at a White House news briefing after the ceremony that he saw "an awful lot of problems" getting the measure through Congress.

"This is not something that's going to be easy," he said. "It's very controversial."

Cannon said he had not read the bill yet and wouldn't make up his mind about sponsoring it until after he holds extensive hearings. But he noted during the ceremony that the committee had "not avoided controversy" in the past. CAPTION: Picture, President Carter yesterday greets Sen. Edward Kennedy, joint sponsor of trucking industry deregulation legislation. By Gerald Martineau - The Washington Post