I asked my friends for their opinions, because that's the kind of word-geek thing I do. One such friend suggested that it's called a dashboard because if your car comes to a sudden stop, it's what you will dash your brain against. As much as I liked this explanation, I was pretty sure it wasn't correct.
So I did a little digging. It didn't take much.
The word dashboard was in common use by the middle of the nineteenth century, well before the the roads were packed with horseless carriages. This dashboard was literally a board across the front of a carriage or buggy that protected the driver from the dirt, mud, and water that were dashed up by the horses' hooves. It also provided a nice footrest. Here's an image.
It's basically the part of the carriage that's right in front of the driver.
The first automobiles were modeled after horse-drawn carriages, with the mechanical parts underneath and at the back of the vehicle. So the dashboard remained, much like an old VW bus, as the forwardmost part of the car.
|Seat belts aren't terribly important when your top speed is 10 mph.|
But that thing we call a dashboard stayed where it was, within easy reach of any driver in need of traffic updates every five minutes.