SUV in Blizzard Conditions. (© Mark Hayes/Getty Images)

According to the Automobile Association of America, 5 million drivers will be stranded this holiday travel season. More than 800,000 of those will be stuck in ice or snow.

A few wrong decisions, a little bad luck and a forecast calling for snow — a recipe for disaster, if there ever was one. What starts as a routine holiday drive — over the river and through the woods to visit grandma — can quickly become a struggle for survival.

Consider the terrible case of former CNET senior editor James Kim and his family, who became stranded on a remote, unpaved logging road in the Pacific Northwest on Nov. 26, 2006. Driving home to San Francisco after spending Thanksgiving in Seattle, the Kims had missed a turnoff from Interstate 5 to Oregon Route 42, a main route to the Oregon coast. Instead of returning to the exit, they consulted a map and chose an alternative route through the Wild Rogue Wilderness, a remote area in the southwestern part of the state, and kept driving in the rain and snow after dark.

Lost, low on fuel and exhausted, the couple and their two daughters, Penelope and Sabine, stopped for the night. By morning, the family was snowbound in their Saab station wagon 20 miles from civilization, with no cell phone reception. A week later, searchers found Kati Kim and her two young daughters alive in the car. James Kim had set out on foot to get help two days earlier. His body was discovered Dec. 6 not far from the vehicle.

The plight of the Kim family may be an extreme situation, but the Automobile Association of America predicts that 5 million drivers will be stranded this holiday travel season, and that more than 800,000 of those will be stuck in ice or snow. And you don't need to be in the mountains to get into winter-driving peril. Just last year, a driver in rural Wisconsin died after he left the safety of his stranded car and tried to walk to a farm just a mile across a snowy field on a subzero night. He made just half the distance before succumbing to exposure.

Don't let this happen to you. To help, here are some guidelines to follow when stranded in the cold.

Bing: Real-Time Road Conditions

Click to enlarge pictureCouple Sitting by Fire (© Comstock Images)

The best place to be when Mr. Freeze is messing with the weather is safe and sound at home, not out on the road.

Be smart
The easy way to avoid getting stranded on winter roads is to just stay home. And sometimes that's exactly the correct decision, says Howard Paul, a spokesman for the National Association of Search and Rescue, a nonprofit devoted to educating and training search and rescue personnel.

"With the Internet and today's cell phones, almost everyone has instant access to weather reports," says Paul, a 20-year veteran of search and rescue operations who lives in Denver and leads a team that covers three counties in Colorado's Front Range. "Often the best decision is just not to head out in the first place, or to turn around while you can. Too often people keep driving, thinking that certainly the road will get better, or the snow will let up soon. And 100 yards later, they are stuck."

Paul also cites an overreliance on 4-wheel drive, "which just gets you stuck further from the road," and on technology such as cell phones and GPS as factors causing drivers becoming lost and eventually stranded.

In January 2010, The Associated Press reported that Jeramie Griffin and his fiancée followed a GPS "shortest route" from their Willamette Valley, Ore., home across the Cascade Mountains, hoping to save 40 minutes on the trip. Following GPS, the couple became stuck on local roads, out of cell-service range and short on formula for their 11-month-old daughter. Three days later, all were rescued safely, but the incident left local law enforcement perplexed. It was the third time in a month that drivers had become stranded in the area while trusting navigation to GPS.

"You simply can't use GPS navigation without also looking at a map, especially in bad weather," Paul says. "In many parts of the country, there are roads that are only open seasonally and might not be plowed or patrolled in the winter. The GPS unit just sees a road. And if you only focus on the screen, you won't have a big-picture notion of where you are headed."

Read:  Surviving Winter Driving