The nationwide trucking shutdown appeared to be largely ineffective but increasingly violent yesterday as many independent drivers stayed home, others began working only in daylight and many changed routes to avoid becoming targets of bullets or tire slashings.
Most of the violent incidents have occurred at night in the shutdown, which began Monday as a protest against new fuel and truck-use taxes.
The Associated Press said that, since then, at least 163 trucks have been hit by gunfire and 167 by rocks, bricks or other objects. One driver was shot and killed in North Carolina Monday night, and at least 27 persons have been injured, two of them seriously.
For the first time, some shippers were telling the Transportation Department that they could not get drivers. A major produce market in New York City told the AP that shipments had slowed. "Today it's dead," said the deputy manager of the market. DOT officials said those incidents appeared to be isolated.
Bennett C. Whitlock Jr., president of the American Trucking Associations, which represents most major trucking firms, asked the Justice Department for federal intervention to stop the violence.
Teamsters union President Roy Williams, whose drivers represent about two-thirds of the nation's truckers, said he is seeking federal and state "protection of our drivers and the motoring public."
John Russell, a spokesman for the Justice Department, said, "No federal intervention is seen at this time . . . . Most violations so far have been against state statutes and local ordinances."
Mike Parkhurst, the Independent Truckers Association founder and president who called the strike, said late yesterday that he is "sickened" by the violence but has no intention of calling off the shutdown.
Whitlock said in an interview that Parkhurst "is accomplishing what he wants to accomplish; he's a publicity seeker, and the violence can be laid at his doorstep."
Parkhurst said, "If the government has much concern for these people, they would have started dealing with the solutions instead of trying to divert the entire issue over to the unfortunate violence."
Many truckers have told reporters that fear, not protest, is the reason they are not driving. Parkhurst denied that, then said, "Another way to look at it is, if there is . . . a town of 100,000 ticked-off people, you would find a lot more than 140 incidents of violence."
Parkhurst accused the federal government of a cover-up in claiming that fewer than 20 percent of the 100,000 or so independent truckers are staying home. That figure was repeated yesterday by Transportation Department officials; Parkhurst claimed about 90,000 drivers were striking.
The effectiveness of the shutdown will be measured finally in whether goods are stopped from moving. In addition to shortages at the New York produce market, there were reports of tomatoes rotting at a Florida terminal and of Maine potato farmers having trouble shipping their crops.
Nonetheless, a DOT official said, "We still don't see any serious interruption to interstate commerce on a national scale."
Diesel fuel sales were down sharply at many truck stops and were off 75 percent in the Toledo-Akron area, where violent incidents have proliferated, according to a survey by the National Association of Truck Stop Operators.
Stanley Hamilton, executive director of a trucking group that hires independents to haul general freight and most of the nation's frozen food, said, "I've talked to maybe 50 carriers. All but two are reporting some attrition, anywhere from 5 to 30 percent. Some goods are arriving late because guys are avoiding driving at night."
Hamilton's group and others like it have opened private fuel terminals to all comers so drivers can avoid truck stops. "We have 97 locations in 34 states," Hamilton said. "Our phone's been ringing off the hook."
Truckers have also been finding new routes. A traffic count on Interstate 95 near Richmond showed truck traffic down about one-third, according to Transportation Department officials.
Police in Maryland and Virginia reported seven more shootings, one tire slashing and several rock-throwing incidents late Tuesday and early yesterday. No injuries were reported. Since Monday, authorities in the two states have investigated more than 20 reports of shootings and confirmed 10.
The most recent shootings in Maryland, including four on Interstate 95 north of Baltimore, occurred about midnight Tuesday. The fifth occurred in Bowie near the site of an earlier sniping incident Tuesday. The tire slashing happened in Taneytown.
Shootings in Virginia occurred on U.S. Rte. 13 near Norfolk and on Interstate 81 in the southwestern city of Bristol.
Parkhurst said truckers seek a rollback of new truck and fuel taxes passed by the lame-duck session of Congress late last year, a ceiling on spiraling state taxes on trucks and "meaningful discussion" of the 55-mph speed limit.
Six bills have been introduced in Congress to modify or repeal the federal taxes, but sources in the House and Senate tax-writing committees said there is no rush to take up those proposals because the Social Security reform package is expected to occupy them for the next few months.
They also point out that diesel fuel prices are dropping more than 5 cents a gallon and that the heavy tax on independent trucks will not take effect until 1985.